Questions and Answers on Nature Restoration Law: restoring ecosystems for people, climate and planet

(Source: European Commission)

What is nature restoration and why do we need it?

Restoration is a process to support the recovery of degraded, damaged or destroyed ecosystems and bring more nature and biodiversity back everywhere, from agricultural and forest land to marine environment and urban spaces. Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to the impacts of climate change, they also help with adaptation to climate change, improve connectivity with other ecosystems and increase populations of species living there. Measures can include enhancing degraded soil and agricultural land with natural features like hedgerows and trees, restoring monoculture forest plantations with mixed native woodland, greening up cities, buildings and infrastructure, replanting seagrasses on the seabed, reversing human-induced pressures such as pollution and excessive use of pesticides. Nature restoration does not imply stopping economic activity in restored ecosystems but it is primarily about living and producing together with and more respectfully towards nature.

The key benefits of investment into nature restoration are outlined in our factsheet. Restoring ecosystems will help increase agricultural productivity and provide important fish spawning and nursery areas at sea, hence reducing food security risks and enhancing the food system resilience. Healthy nature boosts our life support systems – from the production of oxygen, pollination, to the delivery of fresh drinking water and healthy soils. Nature restoration plays an important role in limiting the progress of global warming by capturing and storing carbon, and in adapting to climate change, as well as in mitigating the impact of increasingly violent natural disasters such as floods, droughts and heat waves. Natural ecosystems are equally important to our physical and mental health and are home to precious wildlife.

 

What are the economic costs and benefits of this law?

The extensive impact assessment shows how healthier, more biodiverse ecosystems deliver significantly better on results like climate change mitigation, disaster prevention, water quality, clean air, healthier soils and overall well-being.

Overall, the impact assessment indicates that every euro spent on restoration delivers a return on investment between €8 and €38 depending on the ecosystem in benefits from the many services healthy ecosystems provide.

The economic cost of the degradation of nature is remarkably high. The cost of EU soil degradation, for example, now exceeds €50 billion per year. The benefits of nature restoration, by contrast, far outweigh the costs. Restoring marine ecosystems will allow fish stocks to recover, reversing the decline in pollinators will benefit agriculture, and more biodiverse forests will be more resilient to climate change.

To take another example, the benefits for health, economic resilience, recreation of restoring peatlands, marshlands, forests, heathland and scrub, grasslands, rivers, lakes and coastal wetlands are estimated to be more than €1 800 billion, with costs of around €150 billion.

 

How serious is the problem of ecosystem degradation and why should we urgently act?

Research such as the European Environment Agency’s 2018 State of Nature in the EU report or the work of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) shows that:

  • 81% of EU-protected habitats were in poor condition, with 36% deteriorating and only 9% improving;
  • All European ecosystems – from natural, semi-natural to heavily modified – are under increasing pressure and suffer from the exacerbating impacts of climate change and other threats such as nutrient pollution due to overuse of fertilizers and chemical inputs. Intensifying land use and conversion of land are causing the loss of ecosystems;
  • In the wider Western, Central and Eastern European region, wetlands have shrunk by 50% since 1970. 84% of peatlands – key for capturing and storing carbon and filtering water – are in unfavourable conservation status. In the past decade, 71% of fish and 60% of amphibian populations have suffered a decline;
  • The general condition of EU forests is classified as poor, and ecosystems with intensive agricultural activities are among the most threatened;
  • Marine ecosystems face acute challenges from the climate crisis, biodiversity depletion, overexploitation, pollution, and destruction by invasive species.

The Glasgow Climate Pact at COP26 emphasized the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems (including forests and other terrestrial and marine ecosystems) to achieve the long-term global climate goal by acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and protecting biodiversity.

The 6th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stresses that even with 1.5°C of warming, natural ecosystems will struggle to adapt, with high risks of biodiversity decline, mortality, species extinctions and loss of related livelihoods. The report calls for the urgent restoration of degraded ecosystems to mitigate climate change and reduce its impacts, especially degraded wetlands and rivers, forests, and agricultural ecosystems.

The proposal for a Nature Restoration Law is also a strong demonstration of the EU’s international leadership on the protection and restoration of biodiversity in preparation of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Nature restoration is high on the international agenda, given the increasing realisation of the serious and irreversible impacts that will result from damaged and ever-deteriorating ecosystems, including in relation to urgent issues such as food security.

 

What actions are planned for the different ecosystems addressed?

The proposal sets a number of specific targets. These cover, for example:

  • Natural and semi-natural ecosystems – improving and re-establishing biodiverse habitats on a large scale, and bringing back species populations by improving and enlarging their habitats;
  • Pollinating insects – reversing the decline of bees, butterflies, bumblebees, hoverflies and other pollinator populations by 2030, and enabling pollinator populations to start increasing again, with a methodology for regular monitoring of pollinators;
  • Forest ecosystems – reaching a positive trend for standing and lying deadwood, uneven aged forests, forest connectivity, abundance of common forest birds and stock of organic carbon;
  • Urban ecosystems – no net loss of green urban space by 2030; a 3% increase in the total area covered by green urban space by 2040; and a 5% increase by 2050; a minimum of 10 % urban tree canopy cover; and a net gain of urban green space that is integrated into existing and new buildings and infrastructure developments;
  • Agricultural ecosystems – increasing the grassland butterflies and farmland birds, the stock of organic carbon in cropland mineral soils, and the share of agricultural land with high-diversity landscape features; restoring 30% of drained peatlands under agricultural use by 2030; and 70% by 2050;
  • Marine ecosystems – restoring marine habitats such as seagrasses or sediment bottoms that deliver significant benefits, including for climate change mitigation; and restoring the habitats of iconic marine species such as dolphins and porpoises, sharks and seabirds;
  • River connectivity – identifying and removing barriers that prevent the connectivity of surface waters, so that at least 25 000 km of rivers are restored to a free-flowing state by 2030.

 

What are the expected effects of nature restoration on food security and food prices?

Healthy ecosystems, biodiversity and overall food sustainability are fundamental for food security. Nature restoration is an essential part of the necessary reorientation of EU agriculture and EU food systems towards sustainability, and away from dependency on imported inputs, such as fossil fuels, fertiliser and feed.

In reality, many farmers can already feel the effects of nature degradation and biodiversity loss. Today, soil degradation across the EU affects 61 to 73% of agricultural land, limiting Europe’s ability to produce food in some regions. Erosion alone is causing loss of almost 3 million tonnes of wheat and 0.6 million tonnes of maize per year. Globally, land degradation has already reduced the productivity of 23% of land surface, with up to USD 577 billion in annual global crops at risk from pollinator loss.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has also accelerated a trend of increasing food prices caused by the COVID crisis and bad harvests in producer countries hit by extreme weather. It has had a dramatic effect on food security outside the EU, in particular in Africa.

Nature restoration measures improve food security even in the short term. Although restoring full ecosystems usually requires over 10 years, some restoration actions have positive visible effects in the short term (1-4 years). For example, the impacts of flower strips, hedgerows and other landscape features on pollination rates and pollinators’ abundance can be almost immediate, thus increasing yields. Another example is the reduction of soil erosion with stonewalls, grass margins and other features able to trap sediments within the borders of the agricultural fields. In the marine environment, some commercial fish and shellfish species can quickly recover in well-implemented fisheries restricted areas or no-take zones, with catches increasing five-fold in a few years.

In addition, reducing reliance on fossil fuels in the food supply chain, especially on fertilisers and chemicals imported from Russia and Belarus, will help farmers manage rising agricultural inputs prices, and keep consumer prices reasonable.

Studies have also shown that agricultural diversification measures can enhance biodiversity, pollination, pest control, nutrient cycling, soil fertility, and water regulation without compromising crop yields. Similarly, agro-ecological practices (e.g. crop diversification, agroforestry, mixed crop and livestock systems, and practices improving soil quality) were found to have positive impact on food security and nutrition. The positive outcomes were mostly linked to households in low- and middle-income countries.

In the medium to long term, the combined climate and biodiversity crisis is among the greatest threats to food security. Restoration is essential to tackle many of the main threats to food production. This includes:

  • Building up soil health and fertility to reduce reliance on chemical fertilisers;
  • Increasing the populations of pollinators – almost €5 billion of the EU’s annual agricultural output is directly attributed to insect pollinators;
  • Promoting natural pest control to reduce reliance on chemical pesticides;
  • Fostering nature-based solutions to combat climate change, such as planting trees and re-establishing floodplains, which will also help reduce climate-related risks to agriculture.

As part of ongoing efforts to anticipate issues linked to food insecurity, the Commission will do an analysis of all drivers of food insecurity in order to identify measures that may need to be taken in the shorter and longer term.

 

How will nature restoration help against climate change?

Biodiversity loss and the climate crisis are closely connected, and their effects reinforce each other. When we strengthen nature, we also help fight the climate crisis. As such, ecosystem restoration is a key nature-based solution to address the biodiversity and climate crises.

Many degraded habitats, like forests, peatlands, salt marshes, sea-grass meadows have a significant potential to store carbon in biomass and in the soil. Their restoration is an essential part of strategies for climate change mitigation.

Restoring nature also helps us adapt to climate change. Healthy rivers, floodplains and wetlands absorb floodwater more effectively and at lower cost than human-made structures, and when we bring nature back into cities, it cools local areas, helping reduce the impact of heatwaves and significantly reduce the energy needed for air conditioning.

 

What does the proposal mean for landowners, foresters, farmers and fishers?

The proposal does not put any direct obligations on landowners, foresters, farmers or fishers but only on Member States. It includes targets for agricultural ecosystems, such as ensuring the recovery of pollinators and farmland bird populations, rewetting peatlands and increasing landscape features like hedgerows. This will require improvements in farming practices, with many changes closely aligning with existing targets in the EU Biodiversity and Farm to Fork Strategies. It also includes targets on agricultural ecosystems, such as increasing forest bird numbers, deadwood, forest connectivity, stock of organic carbon and the share of forests with uneven-aged structure. These are essential to put the EU’s agriculture and forestry on a sustainable footing and ensure food productivity and resilience. The proposal also includes targets on marine ecosystems. Restoring marine ecosystems, in particular important fish spawning and nursery habitats, will allow fish stocks to recover and will provide economic and social benefits from increased catch to fishers.

Sustainable agriculture is vital for the maintenance of many species and habitats in biodiversity rich areas. There are many extensive agricultural practices which have multiple and significant benefits on the protection of biodiversity, ecosystem services and landscape features such as precision agriculture, organic farming, agro-ecology, agroforestry and low intensity permanent grassland.

Also certain forestry practices will have to be adapted so that larger areas of forests approach a semi-natural or natural state, with lower logging intensity as part of closer-to-nature forestry.

However, investment in restoration will always bring gains that are several times bigger than the money spent on it or the changes made. Future crops and timber yields are likely to be more stable, with greater resilience to pests and extreme weather events. Restored forests will be less vulnerable to forest fires and droughts, due to a more diverse distribution of tree species. These will all have direct positive effects for farmers, foresters and landowners.

New forms of income will also become available, as business models adapt. Tourism and recreational activities, for example, are likely to increase incomes, as healthy ecosystems are primary locations for quality tourism.

 

What does the proposal mean for towns, cities and suburbs?

The proposal aims to ensure a steady increase in urban green space and tree canopy cover in densely populated areas from now to 2050. This can be achieved by ‘greening’ urban planning processes over time, restoring degraded industrial land, increasing green roofs, tree lining streets and creating micro parks and allotments, even by greening car parks. Many inspiring examples of such projects are developed all over Europe, including as part of the New European Bauhaus.

New buildings can be built with urban greening in mind from the outset. Many EU cities contain large areas of abandoned and contaminated land, suitable for restoration.

Over time the proposal will see a decoupling of urban growth from the loss of urban green space and tree canopy cover.

 

What does the proposal mean for all Europeans’ daily lives?

On a day-to-day basis, the proposal means greener, restored ecosystems in and around cities and towns, and healthier and more biodiverse coasts, rivers, forests, and rural areas.

The proposal also strengthens the economic future and resilience of the EU. Restored ecosystems ensure the continued provision of productive soil, clean water and air, healthy fisheries, sustainable natural resources, and raw materials, and critically, restored ecosystems are an essential and cost-effective route to mitigating and adapting to climate change.

 

How will the proposal be implemented, monitored and enforced?

Member States are expected to submit National Restoration Plans to the Commission for assessment within two years of the Regulation coming into force, showing how they will deliver on the targets. They will also be required to monitor and report on their progress. The European Environment Agency will draw up regular technical reports on progress towards the targets. The Commission, in turn, will report to the European Parliament and to the Council on the implementation of the Nature Restoration Law.

This will contribute to the Commission’s regular reporting on progress of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. As part of the new governance framework, the monitoring and review mechanism of the EU Biodiversity Strategy will enable regular assessment of progress and setting of corrective action, if needed.

As such, the proposal contributes to creating an integrated approach between biodiversity, climate and livelihoods.

 

What funding opportunities are available at EU level?

The EU Biodiversity Strategy foresees that more than €20 billion will be unlocked for biodiversity every year as part of the European Green Deal. Specifically, under the EU Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021-2027 the biodiversity financing target adopted will see 7.5% of the EU budget dedicated to biodiversity from 2024, rising to 10% for 2026 and 2027. Under the current MFF, around €100 billion will be available for biodiversity spending, including restoration.

The Commission is working to ensure that funding for nature restoration and biodiversity is fully integrated into the Recovery and Resilience Facility, InvestEU, the European Structural and Investment Funds, the Common Agricultural Policy, the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund, research funds and the LIFE Programme for environment and climate.

EU funds such as the Common Agriculture Policy and the Just Transition Fund, as well as various national funds in most EU Member States, will assist farmers in the transition to more sustainable farming or other activities closer to nature. Under the proposal on pesticides released also today, the EU will respond to the urgent need to change the course on pesticides and support farmers in their actions to do so. For 5 years, Member States can use the CAP to cover the costs of the new requirements for farmers. This can compensate for any additional costs and prevent price increases in food.

Through carbon farming and the upcoming carbon removals certification framework, the Commission will promote a new business model for land-based carbon removals, including financial incentives to rollout nature-based solutions.

Market-based instruments could be promoted by Member States to help cover costs of restoration and to prevent deterioration, for example fiscal approaches, payments for ecosystem services, result-based payment schemes, and others.

 

What about global efforts? How does the proposal fit the EU’s position on tackling global biodiversity loss?

The UN decade on ecosystem restoration, running from 2021 to 2030, the ongoing negotiations on the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (COP15) under the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) as well as the conclusions of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) of the climate change conference in Glasgow have all created a political momentum for nature restoration.

With this legislative proposal – the first of its kind globally – the EU demonstrates that it takes the global objectives of halting biodiversity loss seriously. By taking action within the EU we also lead by example globally. The proposal for a Nature Restoration Law is the EU’s key contribution in the ongoing negotiations on a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework to be adopted at the Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 in Montréal from 7 to 15 December this year.  It also contributes to achieving the EU’s climate mitigation and climate adaptation objectives cost-effectively and to meeting EU international commitments.

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