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  • Writer's pictureAlina Stehle

New Nature Restoration Law by the EU causes mixed reactions

©Alina Stehle

Last week, the EU adopted a historic bill to reduce agricultural emissions, promote biodiversity and sustainable land use, which has sparked mixed reactions from the public.

“I can note the climate change. We have a longer growing season, higher temperatures and more rain," says Sander van Leeuwen, a dairy farmer in the province of Groningen. He has to adapt to the new conditions that are affecting his farm and his livelihood.

Climate change is not only visible in agriculture. Extreme weather events have become more frequent around the world in recent years. About 80% of Europe's natural habitats are in poor condition due to intensive exploitation of the oceans and land. Over the past four decades, Europe has witnessed the annual disappearance of 20 million birds.

To fight against these developments, the Nature Restoration Law seeks to increase biodiversity to limit global warming to 1,5 degrees. The new law aims to strengthen Europe's resilience and strategic autonomy by preventing natural disasters and reducing risks to food security.

"The vote is a success for biodiversity and climate protection in the EU, for farmers and for food safety. It is a victory for the many environmental protection associations and businesses that have been fighting for the renaturation law for months.” Terry Reintke (Co-Chair of the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament)

The Nature Restoration Law is at the center of the European Green Deal to mitigate the effects of climate change. Degraded ecosystems could be restored by increasing forest areas, marine habitats, and river connectivity.

Loss of farmland feared by farmers' protest

The law was first introduced by the European Commission in June 2022, and faced strong political opposition from conservatives and farmers. 329 members of the European Parliament voted in favor, 275 against. The Nature Restoration Law calls for 30 percent of all former peatlands currently used for agriculture to be restored and partially converted to other uses by the end of the decade, rising to 70 percent by 2050.

As a farmer, Van Leeuwen feels misunderstood by politicians: "Politicians don't do enough to maintain farmers' incomes," he tells The Groninger. In his opinion, it is important to maintain the cultivated areas. This is in line with the counter-demonstrations by farmers against the Nature Conservation Law, who called for a slower approach that would reduce the impact on their incomes.

Farmers' associations and conservative EU politicians had previously complained that farmers would be too restricted by the protective measures, and even claimed that the bill could endanger food security in the EU. To prevent such a scenario, an emergency stop clause was included in the law, which states that the restoration of agricultural ecosystems can be stopped if food security is threatened.

Urgency of the climate crisis

Richard Bintanja, who researches climate change, says the law is an important step in the right direction. "We are in for a bumpy ride in the near future. This February is already four degrees warmer, which may not seem like much. But when it gets four degrees warmer in the summer, people will start dying. Elderly people, for example, who cannot stand the heat," he states.

The future depends on what we can do now to reduce emissions, says Bintanja. "The future is not set in stone, but I hope that people will begin to see the urgency. People often have good intentions and take small steps, which is fine, absolutely fine. But the government also takes relatively small steps. I think we have to take bigger steps. And that comes with urgency. Once people feel it personally, then I think it will become more urgent," he says.

Fighting for sustainability

One person who is fighting to make the climate crisis more visible is Jeanine Rühle. In addition to studying sustainability science, she is a lobbyist for youpaN, the German Youth Panel for Sustainable Development. “The Nature Restoration Law is an important step for biodiversity which didn’t get that much attention beforehand,” she thinks.

Rühle understands the concerns and fears of farmers, but believes that nature restoration is the only way to ensure food stability in the long term. For her, climate activism is important to wake people up, to raise interest in the issue, and to give those that are already trying to fight climate change more hope.

"Education is important in the fight against climate change. We need to establish a better image of sustainability, which is not only about limiting and renouncing. Talking to children at school is crucial to achieve this, but the crisis is urgent, so we can't wait for the next generation. So, we need to talk to people who are in a position to change climate issues now," says Rühle.

It's frustrating for her that while the knowledge often exists, the implementation of adequate laws is still lacking. To successfully combat climate change, Rühle believes that dialogue and listening to different perspectives are key to achieving the unified goal.

Systemic change is required

For scientist and activist Tanner Tuttle, the new law is going into a good direction, but there are systemic issues that are not being addressed. "Farmers actually care about the environment, and they want to farm in a way that's compatible with the environment. But politicians often don't address their needs," he says. Tuttle believes that the perpetual goal of economic growth is incompatible with the fight against climate change: "We need to look systemically at how we can give more back to the environment and provide sufficiently for society”.

Studies have shown that the richest one percent of the world's population produces as many climate-damaging greenhouse gases as the poorest two-thirds of the world. As a result, Tanner believes that the neoliberal system is unlikely to change anytime soon, since they are the ones benefiting from growth. "But if we don't actually go to the source of the problem, which are the rich 1% through their capital investments, then don't expect the outcome to change," states Tuttle.

What frustrates him is that the predictability of climate change has been ignored for so long: "I'm very angry. In terms of how we got to where we are now, the Club of Rome in 1972 said if we continue the current path, we're going to be right where we are now. And instead of change happening, you had the entrenched interests digging in and doing everything they could to create denialism".

The future will tell if the Nature Restoration Law can deliver on its promises. But the passing of the law provides a brief respite for the Green Deal, which faces growing opposition from right-wing and liberal parties, as well as the agricultural sector and industry associations.


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