Rescuing the Nature Restoration Law

NRL squeezed though the European Parliament, but fundamental reforms are needed for it to succeed

It is a stark but surprisingly little-known fact that farming and forestry interests opposing the Nature Restoration Law (NRL) represent less than 2.5% of Gross Domestic Product in the EU. 

Yet the costs of inappropriate management in worsening climate change and ecological degradation fall on the remaining 97.5% of the economy.

A letter sent by Wild Europe to each of the 51 MEPs in the Environment Committee and the Agriculture & Rural Development Committee on 10th July, just prior to the vote on the NRL, pointed out this GDP mismatch and stressed that it was in the interests of all sectors of the economy to get the Law voted through.

The arguments should be pretty clear by now:

  • With 80% European habitats in deteriorating condition, restoration is urgently needed to mitigate climate change and support resilience against the growing impact of erratic rainfall, droughts, floods, wildfires and pest outbreaks
  • There is a significant economic as well as ecological return on investment, for example as clarified by the IEEP/Ecologic 2022 cost-benefit study on the NRL 
  • Challenges cited against NRL are illusory: food security will worsen unless the erratic weather patterns and ecosystem degradation are addressed – affirmed in an open letter from 6000 European scientists. Equally, the ‘bureaucratic burden’ opponents complain about is simply a requirement to prove taxpayer and consumer subsidies are properly spent
GVA is GDP plus subsidies less taxes – thus inflating the actual production level for agriculture, forestry, fisheries (source: Eurostat)

Political posturing … but assurance of funding is needed

The NRL survived its parliamentary vote by just 22 votes on 12th July, albeit weakened from 140 amendments.

At the same time, opposition to the NRL expressed by the European Peoples’ Party (EPP) and other groupings in the Parliament is not just about political posturing ahead of elections in May 2024. It echoes fundamental concerns among farmers and foresters that what have previously been management guidelines will carry legal obligations under the NRL. 

These concerns should be realistically addressed by a strategy that, wherever appropriate, clearly identifies and secures specific funding sources to meet the individual additional costs of restoration or income forgone through obligatory conservation measures. 

Financial reforms required

Excellent though the original vision of Biodiversity and Forest Strategies was, in practice the issue of how to fund them remains inadequately addressed. 

The EC has already gone a long way in proposing significant allocation here, equating to 10% of the overall EC budget from 2025. Yet this largesse must be accurately targeted – and it will need to be matched by a very significant increase in private sector contributions.

Five key reforms in particular are required here:

  1. To ‘eco proof’ the financial instruments delivering private sector funding, together with verification and enforcement mechanisms, and thus minimise resource misallocation and greenwashing
  2. Full activation of the Payment for Ecosystem Services agenda: eg matching supply and demand, promoting and monitoring the role of intermediate agencies. This process must involve oversight by conservation and land user interests in tandem
  3. Reform of the official grant system: financial, administrative and promotional aspects. The new ‘cost+ 20% profit’ element now allowed for improves incentives through state aid, but is only part of the picture
  4. Provision of clear and prompt data feedback, as a requirement, linked to funding, for assessment of progress: both in adoption of the various funded measures to secure NRL objectives, and of the resulting impacts – with the Forest Monitoring Law, for example, being brought forward
  5. An upgrade in competences is needed for all the above reforms for conservationists (more focus on enterprise, economic and financial capacity building) and business (better understanding of appropriate environmental objectives and how to attain them).

These measures could not only enable the NRL to be delivered by the Trilogue in an effective format, but also underwrite adequate implementation – particularly at Member State level, and in non-EU countries. 

No room for further failure

Following general failure of the two previous Biodiversity Strategies, there is no further room for obstruction or false compromise. 

Full funding and compensation must be applied where merited. But the vital environmental interests of the great majority must not be thwarted by the lobbying of a small minority, often clinging to subsidy because their core business is uneconomic.

An effective Nature Restoration Law has been called for in a petition signed by over a million EU citizens. As voters and taxpayers they are increasingly aware of where true obstacles to progress lie.