Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are voting today on a major nature restoration law that is a key arm of the EU Green Deal. This law is crucial to restoring and protecting the ecosystems that underpin Europe’s economies and societies. These ecosystems – forests, rivers, wetlands, and so on – provide the “services” we need to survive, including clean water and air, healthy soils, pollinators for our food production, and more. They also mitigate some of the looming effects of climate change.

Sadly, many of the world’s ecosystems are rapidly degrading – and Europe is no exception. Soil erosion affects 12 million hectares of land in Europe – about 7 per cent of all farmland – and costs farmers 1.25 billion euros annually in lost productivity. The same applies to the oceans. Two-thirds of ocean ecosystems are degraded or modified and one-third of marine fish populations are fished unsustainably. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. Restoration can enable European ecosystems to thrive once more, providing us with an abundance of resources and “services” that will ensure, in turn, that our economies and societies prosper. The economic returns of restoring land and reducing degradation, greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss could be as high as $US 125-140 trillion every year – up to 50% more than the $93 trillion global GDP in 2021, according to the second Global Land Outlook UNCCD.

We need restoration – it’s not some kind of wishy-washy, eco-warrior’s dream: it’s an economic necessity. As Frank Elderson, Executive Board Member at the European Central Bank recently told the Financial Times, “[protecting biodiversity] is not some kind of flower power, tree-hugging exercise. This is core economics.” There is now a widespread understanding that nature is the foundation of our economic systems. 

Coppiced woodland in Europe
Coppiced woodland. Credit: Tom Lovett.

Unfortunately, the proposed EU Nature Restoration Law that lawmakers in Brussels are voting on today has been subject to a disinformation campaign, presenting the law as harmful to food security and our economy. Many opponents claim to defend the very industries – notably the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors – that will see their profit margins and long-term sustainability threatened by climate change and ecosystem degradation if we don’t act now.

To clear up some uncertainties ahead of today’s vote, we’ve busted some of the common myths around the EU Restoration Law:

Myth 1: People don’t want it

A 2021 survey by the European Commission found that European citizens now identify climate change as the single most serious problem facing the world. At the last European elections, climate and the environment were listed as top priorities for voters. Support for the environment also remains high as we approach next year’s elections, with citizens and businesses calling for an ambitious nature restoration law. The European people clearly want action when it comes to climate change and nature restoration!

Myth 2: Restoration means more protected areas and no economic activities

Restoration is not synonymous with protection alone. It’s not about shutting down economic activities. In fact, healthier and more productive ecosystems actually benefit economic endeavours. Ecosystem services delivered by biodiversity – from crop pollination and water purification to flood protection and carbon sequestration – are vital to human wellbeing. Globally, these services are worth an estimated EUR 102-115 trillion per year – more than one and a half times the size of the global economy. Restoration is good for business – full stop.

Myth 3: More nature legislation is a bureaucratic nightmare for renewables

The European Commission has renewable energy as one of its top priorities, and the EU has even agreed to speed up permitting processes for the industry alongside the restoration law. When it comes to restoration or renewables, authorities will always consider both factors. It’s all about finding the perfect balance.

Farmland in The Netherlands
Farmland in The Netherlands. Credit: Tom Baas.

Myth 4: It will take 10% of farmland out of production

Let’s clear this up once and for all: the law will not mandate that land is taken out of production. The 10% landscape features goal is more of a political aim for the EU, not a mandatory requirement for Member States. We can heal agricultural land and surrounding natural areas while it remains productive, increasing yield, diversifying crops for more resilient ecosystems and businesses, and rendering agriculture more sustainable in the long term.

Myth 5: The Commission is imposing restoration measures on Member States

The obligation to implement the Nature Restoration Law indeed lies with EU countries, not individual farmers, foresters, or fishers. But all 27 countries will have the flexibility to achieve the targets in their own unique way. Member States get to design their plans and measures based on their own assessments, scientific inputs, and consultations. These plans are flexible and tailored to match the needs and capacities of each country. They’re the architects of their own restoration journeys!

Myth 6: This law will make farmers lose income due to decreased production

The EU Nature Restoration Law aims to help damaged ecosystems recover, ensuring they can keep producing healthy and nutritious food for years to come. Postponing this law won’t do farmers any good – and we risk losing precious time to restore the ecosystems they depend on for their production. To repeat: soil erosion currently costs farmers 1.25 billion euros annually in lost productivity, according to European Union data. In contrast, it is estimated that every dollar invested in land restoration and sustainable land management can yield up to US$30 in economic benefits, including increased crop yields, improved water availability and reduced land degradation. It’s a win-win for farmers and nature!

Farmer in Spain
Arantza Llarduya on her farm in Southern Spain during the almond harvest. Credit: Gabriela Hengeveld.

Myth 7: Fishing will be even more restricted

The Common Fisheries Policy remains the framework for deciding on sustainable fishing practices. Member States hold the key to ensuring coherence between this policy and environmental laws. It’s vital for the health of marine ecosystems and the stability of our fishers’ future. 

Myth 8: The EU Nature Restoration Law is burdensome and costly

While it is true that restoration efforts require investments and resources, the law emphasises a cooperative and adaptive approach. It encourages collaboration between member states, stakeholders, and local communities to identify cost-effective solutions. Moreover, the long-term benefits of restored ecosystems, including improved resilience to climate change and enhanced biodiversity, outweigh the initial investment. One example: the economic benefits of Europe’s Natura 2000 network are currently valued at EUR 200-300 billion a year – far and away enough to justify their conservation.

Deer in Slovakia
Deer in field in Slovakia. Credit: Filip Nasaly.

We need an EU Restoration Law 

The proposed EU Nature Restoration law recognises the importance of a sustainable economy and the need to balance environmental protection with socio-economic development. By promoting nature restoration, the law aims to enhance ecosystem services, such as clean water, carbon sequestration, and tourism opportunities, which are essential to long-term economic and social prosperity. The law does not seek to ban or hinder human activities altogether: It just aims to ensure that they are carried out sustainably and in harmony with nature. 

While individual countries may have their own conservation measures, the EU Nature Restoration Law provides a cohesive framework that sets common goals and standards across member states. It offers to strengthen cooperation and coordination, ensuring that collective efforts are aligned to achieve a more effective and impactful restoration of Europe’s natural ecosystems altogether.

We can’t continue to plunder Europe’s ecosystems for short-term economic gain – we are at risk of losing nature and, with it, crucial resources and services that we need to survive. We need an EU Restoration Law – so, we encourage lawmakers to vote for it today! 

Author: Lily Maxwell