21 March 2024

The Nature Restoration Law is key for greening our future

EU Member States’ Ambassadors are expected to have a final decision on the Nature Restoration Law on 22 March with an expected final vote on this key legislation at the European Council on 25 March. Their decision will define whether the EU will enshrine its objectives to implement the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework as well as identify concrete steps towards the goals of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 becoming law. The conditions of the proposed law are vital for nature, biodiversity, EU citizens’ health and wellbeing, climate adaptation and mitigation, disaster resilience, and food systems both for our cities, regions and surrounding rural areas. Environmental degradation and biodiversity loss are on the rise, and as many as one million species on Earth face risk of extinction – many within this century.

We need to include ecosystem restoration aspects in zoning, in ecological compensation measures, in the planning system in cities and regions,” explains Holger Robrecht, ICLEI Europe Deputy Regional Director. “Delaying the implementation of the Nature Restoration Law will make our cities and regions miss the opportunity to urgently assess which ecosystems existed in the past, what were their functions, and how we can use this information as a pathway to modern urban development in cities. We need restoration efforts to span cities, towns, peri- urban and rural areas to create a more resilient Europe for all."

Through sealing the deal on the Nature Restoration Law, the EU could constitute the first ever large-scale restoration law, spanning all major ecosystems, including cities and regions.

This first legal requirement for large-scale nature restoration would help ensure no further deterioration of protected habitats and species occurs. When adopted, the law will introduce restoration measures for at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea area by 2030, and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. Enshrining restoration within such a legislative framework provides the EU and its Member States with a much needed foundation from which to enforce existing and future environmental targets.

The law is of particular relevance for cities and regional governments. Three quarters of all EU residents live in cities, regions, and towns, rendering urban action an essential component of any EU-wide restoration efforts. Increasing urbanisation and the growing connection between urban and rural communities will heighten environmental pressures in cities and regions. Such pressure negatively impacts biodiversity and life-supporting ecosystem services, such as flood protection, pollination, and soil erosion control–outcomes, all of which reduces social and environmental resilience. Similarly, the benefits of ecosystem protection extend beyond the environment: for example, restoration can spark local economies by increasing green job offerings and creating opportunities for tourism.

We know that cities already suffer in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss, and that nature restoration will play an essential role in keeping cities liveable.

When adopted, local and regional governments will be required to substantially increase urban green space and urban tree cover by 2050. This process will include the development, implementation and monitoring of National Restoration Plans (NRPs). These plans will lay the groundwork for cities as they identify restoration areas, establish current baseline conditions, outline planned restoration measures, and set a course for timing, monitoring, and financing.

The proposed law has received ardent support from the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), an EU advisory body made up of locally- and regionally-elected representatives from all 27 Member States. In an opinion published in February 2023, with extensive contributions from ICLEI Europe Senior Expert Bettina Wilk, the CoR recognised the law as a: “game changer in the fight against biodiversity loss and the impacts of climate change.” The opinion furthermore lauded the law’s legally-binding nature, and underscored the potential for the legislation to address gaps in biodiversity funding, and to incentivise public and private investments in nature protection. The CoR sees the law as: “a crucial step forward that will steer the implementation of an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework, and the synchronisation of the climate and biodiversity agendas.”

Due to the social and environmental promise in the proposed law, ICLEI Europe joins EU cities, regions, and the CoR in expressing stark support of its adoption in its final vote at the Council.

ICLEI Europe stands ready to support its successful execution, providing technical support to fill knowledge and capacity gaps facing cities. The Biodiversity and Nature-based Solutions team in particular has a proven track-record supporting cities in crafting Urban Greening Plans, strategic framework documents that are in alignment with the conditions of the proposed Nature Restoration Law, and an excellent model for the integrated development and implementation of NRPs.

The Nature Restoration Law is legally binding. As a result, it offers a much needed opportunity to up the restoration ante of local governments. Furthermore, it strengthens the legitimacy of local conservation initiatives, and ensures the environmental accountability of local governments. If adopted, this law will help us ensure that urban growth and development do not go hand-in-hand with environmental degradation and the loss of green space. It is time to enshrine the EU’s international nature commitments into law and give policy clarity to leapfrog our restoration efforts!

Learn more about the proposed EU Nature Restoration Law in the NetworkNature Policy Brief: The proposed EU Nature Restoration Law: what role for cities and regions?