The EU’s biggest political group will not support an effort in the European Parliament to increase the ambition of the bloc’s nature restoration bill, senior party members said on Thursday while urging that food security and increased cooperation with farmers must be taken into account.
The European Commission’s proposed nature restoration regulation would set specific binding targets and obligations for each listed ecosystem – from forest and agricultural land to marine, freshwater, and urban ecosystems. It aims to help recover European habitats, 80% of which are in poor condition.
The proposal would cover at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030, and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. It requires member states to make nature restoration plans to be evaluated by the Commission.
But Spain’s Cesar Luena of the centre-left S&D party grouping, who is steering the proposal through the European Parliament, aims to ramp up its ambition considerably.
“We need to increase the overarching objective to 30% because that’s also what we signed at a global level,” the Spanish MEP told a meeting of the Parliament’s cross-party environment committee (ENVI) on Thursday, referring to last month’s COP15 UN biodiversity conference where 196 nations agreed to protect 30% of land and oceans by 2030.
Luena also wants to raise the proposal’s ambition by setting 2030 goals to protect 100% of urban ecosystems and plant at least 3 billion additional trees.
He also wants a goal to require 10% of the bloc’s agricultural areas to contain high-diversity landscape features, a requirement for the Commission to consider setting up a dedicated nature restoration fund, and stricter rules and shortened deadlines to speed up procedures.
Luena’s ideas must first pass an ENVI vote, then a plenary vote of the full Parliament, and ultimately be reconciled with the positions of the Council of member states and Commission.
But they ran into trouble during today’s ENVI committee debate, as two senior members of the centre-right EPP grouping voiced clear opposition.
“I have to say it very clearly so that everybody knows that the proposal as it stands will not be supported by the EPP in plenary,” said Peter Liese a German member of the EPP, which with a quarter of the members of the 705-strong Parliament is by far the largest political group.
“So we have two options. Either we work on an improvement and then EPP can be on board, or we will vote against,” he suggested.
Fellow EPP member Christine Schneider agreed, adding that “we have to have biodiversity but we shouldn’t forget human beings either. There is a risk with the proposal put forward by the Commission that food security is going to be a problem.”
“The approach for us should be about using the land. Nature protection has to go alongside the use of land,” she added.
Luena got more support from other political groups. Maria Ramos of the centrist Renew Europe pointed out the proposal follows what the the EU set out in its biodiversity strategy and that “we need to be consistent with what the European Parliament has already approved”.
“I’m very pleased the Commission has made this proposal last year and it really helped us in negotiations in Montreal,” said Greens MEP Jutta Paulus, who even suggested that Luena’s ideas were not ambitious enough on restoring wetlands and peatlands in agricultural areas.
The nature restoration proposal also faces hurdles in its parallel negotiations among the Council of member states.
Last month, national ministers welcomed the proposals, but several major economies expressed concern over the finances needed and that national contexts be fully taken into account.
By Rebecca Gualandi – firstname.lastname@example.org