|1. Summary of the presentation|
Nature protection is an integral part of the EU Green deal and yet, it seems to have been sidelined in EU agenda. While the European Commission introduced a series of proposals in relation to energy and climate last July and more recently on the circular economy, the release of the nature conservation package has been awaited.
In particular, the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 held the commitment for the European Commission to propose a new law with binding restoration targets. This proposal was initially planned for some months ago but it has been delayed. However, current events are catching up with us as this package was released during our event. To discuss this topic, we have invited Pr. An Cliquet.
An Cliquet is a professor of international environmental and biodiversity law at Ghent University where she teaches courses on international and European environmental and biodiversity law, law and ethics on marine nature conservation, as well as some courses on public international law in general. She holds a PhD on “Nature conservation in the marine and coastal environment”. She is the author of numerous groundbreaking publications, such as the recent ‘EU nature conservation law, fit for purpose’. She has been involved in several commissions or working groups on nature policy and is the head of the faculty environmental commission.
In her presentation, Professor An Cliquet has discussed how a nature restoration law could fill certain gaps in the existing legal framework and identify the possible obstacles or difficulties to be addressed. Pr Cliquet has started by introducing the worrying state of ecosystems, in spite of the existence of legislation to protect them at EU level, including the Habitat Directive. Science, she underlined, tell us that we need to restore ecosystems. She then noted that while EU Member States have been acknowledged to have made insufficient progress to protect biodiversity, the Habitat Directive was considered to be ‘Fit for purpose’.
Then, Pr. Cliquet turned to the 2030 Biodiversity strategy. This is a lengthy strategy that part of the EU green deal and which is composed of several parts. This strategy among other things committed the Commission to propose legally binding nature restoration targets by 2021. The proposal for a restoration law faced several bottlenecks, especially with the Ukraine war which has led to tensions between biodiversity protection and food security. Ecological restoration is linked to the principle of ’no degradation’ which embeds that conservation status and trends of protected habitats & species should not be deteriorated any further. Other elements of the Strategy include the adoption by Member States of restoration plans covering forest, water ecosystems, urban areas, etc. Pr. Cliquet also briefly discussed the Global Biodiversity Agenda.
In a final part, Pr. Cliquet presented her vision of a EU restoration law. In her view, such a ‘law’ should: have a high ambition level, ensure additionally of restoration obligations, put high priority certain ecosystem types (wetlands and freshwater ecosystems, forests, permanent (semi-natural) grasslands…), propose minimum area targets and clear deadlines (2030, 2040, 2050), ensure non-deterioration for all peatlands, old-growth forests and semi-natural grasslands and be consistent with climate policy. It should also make sure that restoration is properly monitored, reported and funded, and scientifically grounded.
2. Proposal for a Regulation on nature restoration
The Proposal for a new Restoration Law was released during our seminar. In what follows, I would like to outline the main elements of that Proposal and discuss them in light of Professor Cliquet’s presentation. The key points are the following:
1. The proposal takes the form of a regulation: It seems that there is an ongoing trend to address environmental problems by means of regulations, as opposed to the use of Directives. We see a similar example with the European Climate Law (regulation 2021/119), which is also named ‘Law’. This can be explained by the willingness of the EU to make fast changes, by avoiding implementation problems that can be encountered with a Directive. As the explanatory memorandum underscores, ‘Since a regulation does not need to be turned into national law, it means restoration measures can start sooner on the ground compared to a directive’. (P 8)
2. The proposal defines ‘restoration’ as the process of actively or passively assisting the recovery of an ecosystem towards or to good condition, of a habitat type to the highest level of condition attainable and to its favourable reference area, of a habitat of a species to a sufficient quality and quantity, or of species populations to satisfactory levels, as a means of conserving or enhancing biodiversity and ecosystem resilience (Article 3, (3), my emphasis). We thus see that there are several parts in its definition, depending on what is restored, i.e. an ecosystem, a habitat type, a habitat of a species or a species population. For each of these elements, the threshold of restoration is defined by the proposal.
3. The proposal sets out a series of legally binding targets (Chapter II): These targets are distinguished according to the type of ecosystem concerned (territorial, costal, marine, forest, agricultural). It also contains specific targets e.g. for pollinators. The targets generally take the form of a percentage of the area in which restoration measures need to be in place. The proposal also includes a non-deterioration principle (e.g. Article 4, § 7).
4. At the same time, the proposal allows some derogations upon justification, due to external events (e.g. climate change) or projects which either are ‘of overriding public interest for which no less damaging alternative solutions are available’ (non Natura 2000 sites) or for in cases covered by Article 6(4) of Directive 92/43/EEC, namely ‘imperative reasons of overriding public interest’, provided that compensatory measures are adopted (Natura 2000 sites).
5. The proposal requires Member States to make restoration plans (Chapter III): By making these plans, Member States are compelled to carry out preparatory monitoring and research work to identify the restoration measures that are necessary to meet the targets and obligations above based on the latest scientific evidence. These plans will be assessed by the Commission.
6. The proposal is conceived in synergy with other policy areas: For instance, national restoration plans, including the determination of which restoration measures should be prioritised, should be consistent with climate change mitigation and adaptation, and in particular with national energy and climate plans under Regulation 2018/1999. The proposal also refers to other pieces of EU legislation such as Birds and Habitats Directives.
7. Finally, Member States are compelled to monitor and report biodiversity and ecosystem conditions (Chapter IV).
Fanny Vanrykel – 30 June 2022