Certain political groups seem to think that farming and forestry can be divorced from the surrounding nature; that causing spikes in global heating, slashing forests, driving fires and drought, indefinitely draining water tables, and using pesticides that cause pollinator populations to collapse, can somehow benefit farmers and foresters. When on 31 May 2023, the European People’s Party (EPP) stomped out of negotiations for the EU Nature Restoration Law in the hope of derailing them – apparently in its role as defender of European landowners – it seemed to forget that the land fits into a larger environmental context that cannot be compartmentalised, and is currently being destroyed.
Because overall, Europe’s nature is not doing well. The Commission acknowledges that “Europe’s nature is in alarming decline”: 81 per cent of habitats are in poor status and one in three pollinator populations are dropping in numbers. Reasonably, the Commission points out that restoring nature’s resilience will allow it to continue to clean our air and water, shield us from floods, maintain global temperatures and pollinate crops. Its proposed Nature Restoration Law therefore aims to cover 20 per cent of Europe’s land and seas by 2030, and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.
The proposed Law sets multiple binding restoration targets for a range of carbon-rich ecosystems, including forests and croplands. It intends to reverse the decline of biodiversity and especially pollinator populations by 2030, and to re-establish more complex ecosystems, including forests that will still be used for wood production. As each Euro invested in nature restoration offers a return of between €8 – €38, restoring nature also seems like sound economic policy.
But the EPP took issue with the proposal because, as they see it, the “bureaucratic nightmare and planning deadlock” will threaten “food security and renewable energy production” (i.e., cutting down trees to burn as ‘renewable’ biomass). Note that the EPP does support the Carbon Removal Certification Framework, which, if it does not put restoration at its center, will give money to farmers and foresters while achieving nothing, for the climate. And they particularly dislike the idea of taking 10 per cent of farmland out of production and allowing it to recover, contending that “this would be irresponsible in the current context!” Yet their rejection of the Nature Restoration and the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Laws seems to benefit large industry, such as pesticide companies, and timber companies, at a time where costs for farmers is rising and forestry employment is declining.
Fortunately, many reasonable voices are fighting for the Nature Law, such as French RENEW and Parliament’s ENVI committee chair Pascal Canfin, and the Rapporteur from Spanish S&D César Luena.
Despite the EPP’s concerns, far greater threats lie elsewhere: The global community has already blown past the acceptable level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and emissions continue to rise; we have also likely already passed dangerous climate tipping points. In this context, the far greater irresponsibility would be to fail to restore nature. But given the EPP’s walkout, the ENVI Committee must now find a way reach a deal without them by 15 June when the plenary vote will happen.