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The new Nature Restoration Law adopted last Wednesday by the European Union aims to contain the decline of biodiversity and manage climate change more effectively by obliging member States to restore damaged ecosystems. A similar model should be considered by many other countries to save what remains of humanity.

The decline of biodiversity and the loss of ecosystems are both the cause and the consequence of climate change. Restoring these is therefore an absolute priority as far as the future of our planet is concerned. The urgency of this matter prompted the European Union to adopt a new law for the restoration of biodiversity on Wednesday July 12, as part of the climate-oriented actions it has undertaken.

The objective of this new legislation is to halt the decline of biodiversity and fight climate change more efficiently through the restoration of damaged ecosystems. The underlying reason for this is the fact that, according to the European Commission, over 80% of natural habitats in the EU are in a mediocre or bad state of conservation, and up to 70% of soils are in bad health due to pollution, urbanization, and intensive exploitation.

Drastic norms

The law imposes measures on member States to restore 20% of their land and bodies of water by 2030, but they don’t stop there: the measures also extend to all other areas in need of restoration, setting a time-limit for 2050. Similarly, this same law prohibits all net loss of green urban spaces by 2030. Additionally, it stipulates that the number of such spaces should be increased by at least 5% by 2030, the goal being to push for 10% of green spaces in each urban area by that same year. The aforementioned measures are part of a new urbanization strategy within the EU: biocities.

As per this same legislation, bogs (ecosystems whose soils are rich in water and organic matter) must also be restored, given that they are precious natural carbon wells. By 2030, 30% of drained bogs used in agriculture should be restored, and at least a quarter of these need to be re-humidified.

Improving the condition of forests

Brussels has put forth a series of criteria to improve the condition of forests by defining the necessary amount of dead wood, the minimal stocked amounts of carbon, and the bird population limit for these spaces.

When it comes to watercourses, the European Commission has proposed the elimination of several obstacles, including small obsolete barriers, in order to reach “at least 25,000 km” of “free-flowing” watercourses by 2030, the equivalent of less than 2% of all European watercourses. These practices should allow for the establishment of a green and blue corridor in Europe, one that would ensure ecological continuity in the continent. The green and blue corridor in question is a network of natural and aquatic spaces that aim to preserve biodiversity and promote the circulation of species. It includes ecological terrestrial corridors (green corridors) and aquatic corridors (blue corridors) that serve to maintain habitats and safeguard ecological connectivity. An approach of this sort contributes to the protection of biological diversity, the strengthening of ecosystems’ resilience, and the establishment of leisure areas for populations.

Member States will also have to reverse the decline of pollinator populations by 2030 and increase their numbers. Criteria to assess butterfly and field bird populations will be defined at a later stage.

The law stipulates the expansion of “high diversity” zones to eventually amount to 10% of the EU’s agricultural lands and feature elements such as hedges, ditches, ponds, fruit trees, and crop rotation. In this context, it is important to note that these are the fundamental principles of agroforestry, an agricultural practice that consists of integrating trees and animals into farms in order to diversify agricultural revenues, promote biodiversity, and improve ecosystem resistance to climate change. Therefore, this strategy combines agricultural production with the sustainable management of forest resources.

A sizeable investment

According to the EU, approximately 100 billion euros will be allocated to biodiversity from the European multi-year budget, an immense sum. These funds will specifically cover restoration plans. Brussels estimates indicate that every invested euro could generate returns of 8 to 38 euros thanks to the ecosystems’ multiple perks such as the improvement of human health, pollinization and soil quality, flood risk reduction, climate change mitigation by capturing CO2, and the preservation of the fish population. It is therefore clear that such investments in biodiversity offer sizeable economic opportunities, all while preserving the environment.

Credit: Frederick Florin / AFP

Mixed feelings

Although conservative societies and the extreme right-wing stood against this law, convinced as they are that it would harm farmers and affect renewable energy, the legislation was adopted by the European Parliament with a small majority: 336 votes for, 300 votes against, and 13 abstentions. However, the final text remains less ambitious than the initial document. Flexibilities and exemptions have been introduced de facto into the law, allowing member States not to reach certain objectives in some situations. Moreover, a provision was added permitting the postponement of some objectives in certain exceptional cases.

Though a lot of compromises have been made on the text itself, those in favor of this law highlighted the importance of preserving biodiversity and reaching the EU’s environmental objectives. They believe that adopting this legislation is a positive step if a small one and hope that the final draft will help preserve biodiversity and significantly improve ecosystems.

Indeed, negotiations will still need to be made between the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the member States to finalize the law in question. From their end, politicians would like to reach an agreement by the end of this year to abide by the obligations emitted by the European Union when it comes to biodiversity.

Despite its major importance, many still question the efficiency of this legislation. In fact, it is necessary to carefully assess the measures taken and make sure they are up to par as far as the current environmental issues are concerned. Biodiversity must not be sacrificed to politics. The challenges ahead are complex and require ambitious and organized action from all relevant parties.

Biodiversity in decline in Lebanon

While the debate has been launched internationally on how to preserve the planet’s biodiversity, Lebanese politicians remain absent from the conversation, even though the country’s ecosystems are deteriorating due to political disagreements. The forests in Akkar have been burned and invaded by prize hunters, the Bisri valley has been damaged beyond repair, and the Lebanese cedars have been left to die… all these environmental crimes are being committed amid total indifference from the people in power. No economic rebirth can make up for ecosystem losses. It is high time to act and save our biodiversity, the very essence of our Lebanese DNA.