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A tree-lined street in Barcelona, Spain. Part of the Nature Restoration Law is aimed at restoring urban ecosystems Alamy Stock Photo
Biodiversity

MEPs pass hotly debated nature law to 'reverse hundreds of years' of damage despite farmer protests

The European People’s Party had backed away from the law but Fine Gael MEPs decided to support it.

LAST UPDATE | 27 Feb

THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT has voted to approve the final version of the Nature Restoration Law to protect and restore biodiversity, a major milestone after two years of heated debate.

The law seeks to restore at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030 and all ecosystems by 2050, putting forward measures to restore urban, forest, agricultural and marine ecosystems.

324 MEPs voted in favour of the law today, winning over 275 votes against and 24 abstentions. Most of Ireland’s MEPs voted in favour, including Fine Gael politicians despite their wider political grouping – the European People’s Party – taking a stance against it.

11 of Ireland’s 13 MEPs from the Green Party, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and two Independents voted to support the law. Just two – Independent Luke Ming Flanagan and Sinn Féin’s Chris Mac Manus – voted against it.

The law was originally proposed as part of the EU’s plans to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises, which together pose significant threats to the planet.

However, proposals to restore degraded land received significant pushback from farmers who say it could lower their productivity, which led to intense debate over the law in Europe.

Last July, a sitting of the parliament saw MEPs vote 336 in favour to 300 against (and 13 abstentions) after passing amendments that scaled down some of the law’s original ambition.

Since then, negotiators representing the European Parliament and the EU Council arrived at a compromise on the text that was put before a full sitting of MEPs today.

This stage of voting on legislation in the EU is usually a formality, but the European People’s Party, the largest political grouping in the EU, said it would not back the law.

The EPP’s vice chair, Siegfried Muresan, said that the group “continues to have serious concerns about the Nature Restoration Law”.

“We do not want new and more forms of bureaucracy and reporting obligations for farmers. Let farmers farm,” he said in a statement. 

Ireland’s Fine Gael MEPs, who are in the EPP grouping, broke ranks last July and again today to vote in favour of the law.

In a joint statement earlier today, they said the final agreement “achieves a balance between action to improve biodiversity, while safeguarding food security and guaranteeing that restoration measures will be voluntary for farmers”.

Climate and environmental organisations have criticised the EPP’s decision to back away from the negotiated text, saying it is essential that Europe takes action to restore biodiversity.

81% of assessed habitats around Europe are considered to be in poor condition. 

Farmers have staged disruptive protests in Brussels and elsewhere in Europe, including Ireland, in recent weeks against a range of climate policies they say could hurt their business.

With EU elections approaching in June, politicians are highly aware of how decisions they make now could affect their chances of re-election.

Restoring nature can help to protect against the impacts of climate change. Restoring river flood plains, for instance, can reduce exposure to flooding, while planting trees in urban areas can help cities to cope with higher temperatures.

Peatlands store nearly 30% of global soil carbon and restoring drained peatlands could save up to 25% of Europe’s agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

Welcoming the outcome of the vote, Green MEP Grace O’Sullivan said the decision “gives us a fighting chance to reverse hundreds of years of degradation and damage that have been inflicted on our ecosystems”.

“Ireland is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. What’s good for nature is good for climate and biodiversity, for farming and food production, for health and wellbeing, for water quality and flood protection, for tourism and recreation – there are huge benefits,” she said.

Francie Gorman, the President of the Irish Farmers Association, which campaigned against the law, said that it was passed by the parliament “even though legitimate farmer concerns have not been adequately addressed”.

“This will not reassure farmers about the impact of the Nature Restoration Law,” he said, adding that while there have been some important changes to the Commission version of the Nature Restoration Law, the law is still flawed”.

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