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The EU nature restoration law in a nutshell

published on
March 6, 2024

The EU’s law to restore nature was given the green light by the European parliament this week.  If you want to read all 242 pages full of legal jargon, you can download it here. If you’re just here for the scoop, keep reading.

Why we needed a law to restore nature

The new nature restoration law sets a target for the EU to restore at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030 and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. It is targeted directly at the concerning fact that over 80% of European habitats are in poor shape. The law will contribute to the long-term recovery of damaged nature across the EU’s land and sea areas, to achieve EU climate and biodiversity objectives and to reach the EU’s international commitments, in particular the COP15 30x30 biodiversity agreement. Although these targets are in place,, greenhouse gas emissions are still rising and biodiversity is declining at an “unprecedented” level according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

According to the Commission, the new law would bring significant economic benefits, as every euro invested would result in at least 8 euro in benefits. he report added that, in a number of ways, the “climate mitigation benefits alone outweighed the cost of restoration action required”.

What are the specific targets and agreements?

Next to a lot of definitions and context about why this law is needed, here are the key points the member states are committing to;

  • Restore at least 30% of habitats covered by the new law (from forests, grasslands and wetlands to rivers, lakes and yes, even coral beds) from a poor to a good condition by 2030, increasing to 60% by 2040, and 90% by 2050. Once in a good condition, ensure areas do not deteriorate. Give priority to Natura 2000 areas until 2030.
  • Restore at least 30% of drained peatlands by 2030 (at least a quarter shall be rewetted), 40% by 2040 and 50% by 2050 (where at least one-third shall be rewetted). Rewetting will remain voluntary for farmers and private landowners.
  • Improve biodiversity in agricultural ecosystems, by making progress in two of the following three indicators:
    -the grassland butterfly index;
    -the share of agricultural land with high-diversity landscape features; (hang on because there’s quite the list) ‘buffer strips, rotational or non-rotational fallow land, hedgerows, individual or groups of trees, tree rows, field margins, patches, ditches, streams, small wetlands, terraces, cairns, stonewalls, small ponds and cultural features’.
    -the stock of organic carbon in cropland mineral soil.
  • Take measures to increase the common farmland bird index must also be taken as birds are good indicators of the overall state of biodiversity.
  • Plant an additional three billion trees, and establish a positive trend in several health indicators in forest ecosystems .
  • Restore at least 25 000 km of rivers into free-flowing rivers and ensure there is no net loss in the total national area of urban green space and of urban tree canopy cover

Critical review of the texts

Despite the fact that many elements have been weakened since the first proposal, the law is intended to be one part of several solutions needed to bridge the gap between goals and action. One of the main objections against the new law was around restoration requirements for drained peatlands used for agriculture and came from political and farming groups. The law also provides for an ‘emergency brake’, as requested by Parliament, so targets for agricultural ecosystems can be suspended under exceptional circumstances if they severely reduce the land needed for sufficient food production for EU consumption.


After the vote, rapporteur César Luena (S&D, ES), said: “Today is an important day for Europe, as we move from protecting and conserving nature to restoring it. The regulation will restore degraded ecosystems while respecting the agricultural sector by giving flexibility to member states. I would like to thank scientists for providing the scientific evidence and fighting climate denial and young people for reminding us that there is no planet B, nor plan B.”

Sabien Leemans, a senior biodiversity policy officer at WWF EU, says the law is a “very big opportunity” for nature – and a rare one in terms of EU policy. “It’s really important to protect nature…But it’s not enough – you also need to start restoring nature where it has been lost and bring it back.”

Next steps

It now needs to be approved by the council of the EU before it can take effect. This is usually a formality, but Deutsche Welle reported that “it is not guaranteed and some recent EU policies have faced blockages and delays because of domestic pushback”. Even in the Netherlands, our home turf, political parties NSC and BBB have already put forward a motion to block the law. Obviously we're hoping that doesn't happen. If approved, each EU country will need to submit national restoration plans to the commission to show how they plan to deliver on key targets, with requirements for monitoring and reporting on their progress towards those goals.

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