EU environment ministers welcomed nature restoration proposals from the European Commission during a preliminary discussion on Tuesday, but several major economies in the bloc expressed concern over the finances needed and that national contexts be fully taken into account.
Ministers convened in Brussels to put forward statements in reaction to the executive’s proposal for a nature restoration regulation that aims to help recover European habitats, 80% of which are in poor condition, according to the Commission.
The June proposal would set specific legally binding targets and obligations for nature restoration in each of the listed ecosystems – from forest and agricultural land to marine, freshwater, and urban ecosystems.
The measures proposed would cover at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030, and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.
Ministers broadly welcomed the proposals during the debate on Tuesday, with those from Germany, France, Italy, and Spain – among other member states – each welcoming the proposal.
However, there were differences of opinion on how the ambition level would be achieved, with Berlin welcoming the high level of ambition, while Madrid and Rome questioned how the level would be achieved from a financial perspective, for example.
“[We] need to take into account different contexts of member states and believe it is not fair that some member states that have more natural diversity should pay more for restoration,” Spanish minister Hugo Moran said in translation.
“It is necessary to make sure there is proper financing for implementation … [and the] timetable proposed should be realistic,” he added.
Similar sentiment was expressed by the Italian representative who suggested that it would be “difficult for member states to come up with sufficient resources for biodiversity”, adding that specific EU-level funding should be provided by the Commission.
At present, it was not clear where the money would come from, the Italian minister said.
France, meanwhile, referenced the challenges in particular for marine areas, and asked overall for greater “methodological clarification” on what would constitute nature restoration.
As part of the proposal, member states would have to put in place effective and area-based restoration measures in order to reach the ecosystem-specific targets and plan ahead by developing national restoration plans, in close cooperation with scientists, interested stakeholders, and the public.
This proposal would also define biodiversity indicators to measures progress.
Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans responded to the statements recognising the need to take into account the national contexts when devising any regulation.
“I do understand that we will need to find high levels of flexibility to achieve the goals … we need to find the balance between the two,” he said, referring to the level of ambition and member states’ different situations.
In reference to the funding, he pointed out that the outlined administrative costs for the EU and member states would be at €14 bln per year but that “should cover to a large extent the cost of restoration” that was estimated by the Commission at €6-8 bln per year.
The EU’s 2030 Biodiversity Strategy aims to also unlock at least €20 bln per year for spending on nature.
But a recent report showed how far away member states were from achieving these targets.
The EU nations are obligated to spend at least 37% of the post-pandemic Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF, totalling €750 bln in 2018 prices) on climate-related issues, but are only devoting 1% to nature, according to the study.
The discussion comes immediately after a landmark deal was agreed at the UN’s biodiversity COP15 summit in Montreal, that also puts a lot of pressure on national implementation due to weakness of ambition in the text itself.
EU ministers referenced the key role the bloc had played in the COP15 negotiations.
By Roy Manuell – email@example.com