Nature restoration: what do climate advocates expect from the EU?

The biodiversity on which humans, animals and plants depend is disappearing at an unprecedented rate. In this context of the crisis, the European Commission on May 20, 2020 adopted a proposal for Biodiversity 2030 strategy.

Delayed by several months, but eagerly awaited by NGOs and climate advocates, the panel should unveil soon (in June) Her new plan to restore some ecosystems worst in Europe.

This procedure is now considered one of the main elements of combating climate change.

“We have so damaged nature on the continent that it is necessary to begin to restore it,” explained to Euronews Serge Moroz, Head of Water and Biodiversity Policy at the European Environment Office (EEB).

According to the European Environment Agency,About 80% of the natural habitat It is in “bad condition” And the Two thirds of species live in the European region It is in a state of preservation “poor”.

The need for legally binding targets

Nature remains the best ally in the fight against global warming and climate change. In fact, different ecosystems, from peatlands to forests, rivers and oceans, have varying capacities to store carbon.

“These areas have a very big advantage in terms of carbon sequestration. So if we don’t destroy them, like peatlands, they will continue to sequester carbon and if we restore them, we will allow them to store carbon again,” Below it is the line of Sergey Moroz.

According to activists: Setting legally binding targets To restore these natural ecosystems would help the European Union reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. However, they face opponents who are pressing the EU to backtrack further from its regulatory plan, with war in Ukraine looming and a food crisis looming.

What is nature restoration?

The restoration of degraded ecosystems consists principally of eliminating the various forms of pressure exerted on particular ecosystems.

This may include halting deforestation until it reaches an old-growth state, blocking drainage to restore peatlands and wetlands, removing embankments on rivers to allow for the return of fish stocks and banning fishing in certain marine areas.

So far, the European Union has not legislated on this specific issue, calling on member states to do so They voluntarily set their own goals, But this approach It has largely failed so far.

“Our current efforts to protect nature in the European Union are not enough. We are failing to stem the loss of biodiversity,” Sabine Lehmanns, biodiversity officer at WWF Europe, told Euronews.

Peatlands and freshwater ecosystems have been particularly affected. Almost half of the peatlands in the European Union are degraded, some of which have disappeared. In Germany, for example, only 5% of natural peatlands remain.

What are the goals set by the European Union?

Experts expect the European Commission to set legally binding restoration targets on at least 15% of the EU’s land area, 15% of the marine area and 15% of the length of European rivers by 2030.

“This is important, because we now have a real opportunity in this decade, to fight the disappearance of nature and combat climate change. We must implement basic restoration measures by 2030, and no longer postpone until 2040 or 2050,” Sabine Lymans said.

“There is real potential, and it could really change the rules of the game,” She added.

The NGOs say that member states have some freedom to choose which areas they want to focus on, as they cover 15% of their territory. However, the committee must provide oversight to ensure compliance.

How long does it take to restore nature?

“As long as you have taken the right actions, we believe that should be sufficient to fulfill the obligations,” Below it is the line of Sergey Moroz. “Some of these ecosystems will take a while to recover, while others regenerate especially quickly. We know that when you remove embankments in a river, it takes a year for life to return.”

However, studies have found that in restored wetlands, carbon storage two decades after restoration remains lower than in preserved wetlands. Some restored salt marshes will take more than a century to reach the carbon-accumulation rates of their natural counterparts.

The Greens/Education for All group in the European Parliament is also calling for the implementation of the 15% target, an increase of up to 30% by 2040.

The legally binding part is self-explanatory. “We NGOs should be able to sue member states, for example, when the goal is not achieved,” Mr. Moroz says.

Intense pressure on the various sectors that exploit nature

However, not everyone is excited. Restoring nature may also mean slowing or stopping human and economic activity in certain areas, particularly in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors.

“There is a lot of pressure from some groups trying to abuse the war in Ukraine and food security arguments to oppose this project and farm-to-fork commitments aimed at making agriculture more resilient. For them, biodiversity restoration should be postponed because it is no longer a priority in the current context,” Sabine Lymans said.

“What we are seeing is that the agricultural sector, as well as the logging sector, are actively lobbying against legally binding restoration targets, saying that voluntary targets would be sufficient,” She added.

Other benefits of restoring nature

Experts cite many other benefits to support their arguments. Besides restoring degraded terrestrial natural habitats that could eliminate approximately 300 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually, this action could also have numerous health and economic benefits.

Better nature’s quality, able to sequester and store more carbon, could lead to better air quality, which would certainly translate to fewer people suffering from respiratory illnesses and the deaths associated with these diseases.

According to the WWF, the environmental services provided by biodiversity, from crop pollination and water purification to flood protection and carbon sequestration, are an estimated value Between 125 and 140 trillion dollars (from 102 to 115 trillion euros) per year.

Specifically, the NGO roughly said that 4.4 million jobs in the European Union It currently depends directly on maintaining healthy ecosystems, a large part of which is associated with the Natura 2000 sites – the European Union’s Nature Conservation Network.

According to this report, “bridging the funding gap needed for effective network management could generate 500,000 additional jobs.”

For Mr Moroz, Brussels’ commitment to legally binding 15% targets would have an added advantage: “This would certainly give the European Union the credibility needed to devise a more ambitious global agreement, particularly in its plan to ban imports of food and agricultural products linked to deforestation.”

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