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The Nature Restoration Law’s worthwhile long and winding road

6 März 2024

Written by: Siim Kuresoo

The Nature Restoration Law’s worthwhile long and winding road

EU citizens can celebrate a welcome break in the hostilities against environmental legislation. First, the version of the Nature Restoration Law (NRL) that emerged from trilogue negotiations improves the text adopted in a fraught European Parliament vote last summer (FW 287). Next, despite yet another call from the European People’s Party to reject it, Members of the European Parliament voted in favour of the trilogue version on 28 February 2024, approving the regulation that aims to restore and preserve at least 20% of the EU’s degraded habitat by 2030.

Forests receive specific treatment that goes beyond this overall target, although northern forestry sectors had pushed to scrap the article completely. Article 10 commits Member States to set up restoration measures to enhance forest ecosystem biodiversity. They will need to demonstrate this by measuring and reporting on trends in at least six of seven forest-health indicators (they can choose which six). These include dead tree volumes, share of unevenly structured forests, and tree species diversity (detailed in Annex VI). Progress will be checked every six years to prevent back-sliding until satisfactory levels (identified in Article 11.4) are reached. 

Birds come out ahead, as their indicator is non-negotiable: at the national level, Member States are obliged to achieve an increasingly positive trend of the “common forest bird index” until the satisfactory levels (identified in Article 11.3) are attained.

The final step is expected to be in March with the Council’s approval and the final adoption. Attention is already shifting to how to finance forest management that supports the NRL’s aims. This, too, is foreseen: within 12 months of the Regulation’s entry into force, the Commission must outline solutions for Member States to fill funding gaps for nature restoration. 

Where forestry finance is concerned, Fern has been gathering the (soon to be released) testimony of foresters who already practice forestry that benefits biodiversity and forest resilience (Financing close-to-nature forestry: Case studies from Finland, France, Ireland and Lativia). Broadly, they see no major obstacle, and propose removing subsidies for activities that do not benefit nature or climate, suggesting these be redirected to support the transition to practices that offer multiple benefits. For instance, the Common Agricultural Policy budget for 2023-2027 is nearly 4.2 billion Euros, but funds are often spent on industrial forestry; this could be revised to encourage coherence with NRL objectives. 

They point out that, for too long, the industrial forest sector has been married to rotation forestry which is devastating our natural resources: clearcut, replant, move on, repeat. But alternative methods also offer financial benefits: avoiding systematic clear-cutting allows for reduced maintenance and planting costs; selective felling allows greater flexibility to follow shifts in timber market species preferences and to provide niche products.

The arduous road travelled by the NRL file revealed that many foresters supported the legislation, and are interested in transitioning to less industrialised methods. While the NRL could have been stronger, and pushed Member States to do more, faster, to support biodiversity, it still sets an important change in motion, and allows us a measure of optimism about the future of European forests.

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Kategorien: News, Forest Watch

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