EU agrees on contested law to restore nature

By Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The European Union agreed on Thursday to pass a fiercely contested law to restore degraded natural ecosystems, salvaging measures some lawmakers had campaigned to kill off.

Negotiators from EU countries and the European Parliament late on Thursday evening agreed to the deal, which would require countries to introduce measures restoring nature on 20% of the EU’s land and sea by 2030.

“Europe is engaging, committing, not only to preserve and protect, but also to restore nature,” Spain’s Ecological Transition Minister Teresa Ribera said.

Spain holds the EU’s rotating presidency and represented EU countries in the negotiations.

The law will now be put to the European Parliament and EU countries for final approval. That step is usually a formality that waves through pre-agreed deals.

By 2030, EU countries must launch measures covering 30% of their habitats in poor condition, such as grasslands, rivers and forests. The aim is to reverse the decline of Europe’s natural habitats, 81% of which are classified as being in poor health.

Governments would be required to avoid significant deterioration in healthy habitats, and introduce targeted measures to increase two out of these three: grassland butterfly populations, nature-friendly features like hedges on farmland, and carbon storage in soils.

Proposed targets to restore peatlands were weakened after pushback from some countries. Peatlands are water-logged ecosystems like bogs, which can contribute to fighting climate change because of their capacity to store CO2 emissions.

After concerns from some countries over the cost of introducing nature-boosting measures, Brussels agreed to propose more funding if an analysis finds countries need it.

The deal is a compromise struck after months of political campaigning. Some governments had warned that Europe is pushing too many environmental laws onto industries, while centre-right EU lawmakers had led a campaign to kill the bill, arguing it would hurt farmers.

Some EU countries and lawmakers have fought to keep the law, arguing strong action is needed to rescue declining species and harness nature’s ability to shield people from worsening climate impacts by cooling down cities with green spaces, or using wetlands to avoid floods.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Sandra Maler and Bill Berkrot)