Nature Restoration Law (NRL) passed – lessons for the future

Nature – and the economy – triumphs over 275 Neros. For now.

At last a prize worth cheering about, as the European parliament votes 329 votes in favour, 275 against, to back the NRL.

The final step will involve Council endorsement towards the end of March, with Environment Ministers meeting on 26th. Thereafter successful implementation will depend on Member States adopting effective National Restoration Plans. 

Behind the celebrations there is much ground to cover.

The real task still lies ahead …..

The economic as well as ecological arguments for the NRL have been stridently obvious for some time now. 

Yet the fact it so nearly came to grief in the Trilogue last November, that the EEP (European Peoples Party grouping) was able to wound it so deeply despite the sheer financial illiteracy of their case, shows how much work still has to be done. Taking just four elements:

  • Much of the argument against NRL focused on concerns about the cost and administrative burden of implementing its measures. A lot more input is required to visibly link restoration with direct funding potential resulting, through grants and ecosystem services, for the landowners and budget holders to adequately engage – whether with NRL itself or associated initiatives such as the currently evolving Forest Monitoring Law
Understanding how they need each other
  • By the same token, the conservation sector needs to build its capacity for promoting the economic value of conservation, and for participating fully in the development and monitoring of financial instruments conveying private sector contributions. Turning our backs on the natural capital agenda and Nature Based Solutions may be understandable, but it will deny NRL essential support and paradoxically leave the field open for misallocation and greenwashing. The same applies to DG Environment, for example with their participation in the Forest Ecosystem Services initiative so vital for NRL success.  
  • Successful survival of NRL to this point was in large part due to growing recognition of the need to build an alliance beyond conservationists – with the 1.2 million strong petition engaging business, hunting, financial sector and progressive farming interests. There is more diligent team building to be done before the producers of 97.5% of GDP in the European Union join the campaign to ensure farmers and foresters remain encouraged to contribute their 2.5% share with support for nature rather than escalating costs for the rest of the economy through its continued destruction. NRL is a great step forwards, but it needs entrenching. Events in Brussels last week show too clearly that when the EC is confronted, it blinks, and withdraws reform.
  • To further ensure this outcome, the skillful collective lobbying employed by the conservation coalition for the NRL needs duplicating in a better coordinated fight, next against carbon fuels – fossil fuels plus the forest bioenergy that emits more than coal. Far from being ‘renewable’ such bioenergy represents a multi-billion euro scandal that aggravates climate change and destroys biodiversity, yet it is endorsed by senior politicians. Credibility can be fragile and transient.

The tale of Ursula’s pony

So three cheers for the NRL. But the political barometer in Europe is shifting in an adverse direction, particularly after the forthcoming June European Parliament elections. What made Ursula von der Leyen’s pony into an astute sacrifice with the wolf’s protective status to gain political support, may yet snowball into a more general attempt to roll back environmental legislation.

There is much to be done if the first faltering steps towards legal enforcement of ecological recovery and its address of climate change with the NRL are to speed into an efficient race against time for our planet.