EU Nature Restoration Law – What does it mean for marine conservation?

Jan 12

EU Nature Restoration Law – What does it mean for marine conservation?

What’s happening?

In June 2022 the European Commission proposed the Nature Restoration Law (NRL) to bring nature back to Europe. This law has legally binding restoration targets for marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. The goal is to have 20% of land and sea ecosystems restored in Europe by 2030, and once the law is in place member states are expected to submit National Restoration Plans to the commission within 2 years. Over 80% of EU habitats have poor or bad conservation status and are in decline, so Europe can no longer afford to sit back and allow the degradation of its ecosystems by destructive practices.

Why is it important?

Habitats and species are subject to devastating biodiversity loss for a myriad of reasons including agriculture, overfishing and pollution. Restoring biodiversity is a major action which can be taken to mitigate climate change and the devastating consequences it will bring on, such as increased extreme weather events. Just some of the benefits that healthy ecosystems provide include clean air and water, as well as crop pollination, and these ‘ecosystem services’ will no longer occur if nature is not protected and restored from damaging human activities and behaviour. Restoring nature will also benefit the economy. Every €1 which is invested into nature restoration will bring about €8 – €38 in socio-economic benefits.

What’s next?

On the 20th December, ministers of the EU’s Environmental Council had their first chance to discuss the proposal for the EU Nature Restoration Law. The tone of these initial talks paved the way for the upcoming negotiations in 2023. Support from member states for a robust and timely Nature Restoration Law is crucial. Several member states reacted positively to the proposed law with some even calling for more ambitious targets to restore nature.

However, Ireland’s reaction was not so positive. Ireland stated a lack of data for certain ecosystems and species which will constrain the ability to set restoration targets, and noted a lack of funding to conduct research in these areas.
Another issue raised was the need to produce food that will be affordable to consumers. It also called for more flexibility given the different member states circumstances, which will weaken the robustness needed for a successful NRL at a pan European level.
Some of these points raised are notable, but worrying about financial impacts and wanting flexibility seems redundant when there will be intense negative financial and human impacts if inadequate action is taken.
These comments also directly conflict with the positive responses at COP15 to restore 30% of degraded habitats by 2030. A robust and ambitious NRL is a key element in starting action towards this and would be an important component to the EU Biodiversity Strategy. The ENVI committee (which is made up of Members of the European Parliament from member states) is meeting today, on the 12th of January, to present the draft report. We hope they will have acknowledged and taken into account some key asks from Marine NGO’s joint position paper.

What Marine NGO’s are calling for

It is key that Member States agree to the overarching target of restoring at least 20% of the land, and at least 20% of the seas in the EU by 2030.

  • Protecting nature is no longer enough, large-scale areas of restoration and effective protection are needed to ensure a halt to biodiversity loss and will result in a world that is more resilient to the effects of climate change.
  • The relationship between the Common Fisheries Policy and the NRL needs to be clarified to ensure that areas are managed and protected after they are restored. The NRL must not end up powerless to prevent destructive industrial fishing activities within the boundaries of restored areas. This will be difficult due to member states sharing fishing rights in waters but it is imperative for the success of the NRL in marine areas. Member states should be able to regulate any destructive fishing practices in its waters without a blockage from other member states who have a short term economic interest in the area but no long term social and environmental interests.
  • The involvement of EU citizens is crucial for each member state creating its restoration plans. Transparency of these plans and effective stakeholder engagement is necessary to give the best possible chance of success to restoration areas.
  • There must also be solid financing available for the NRL and the following monitoring and enforcement needed. Member states should assess the budgets needed for restoration plans and there should be an obligation for the Commission to also assess any existing EU funding support.


What are the benefits of a robust Nature Restoration Law?

Seas at Risk, a coalition of European marine NGO’s, state in a report that ‘Restoring EU seas can bring back the sea’s abundant web of life, allowing marine and coastal ecosystems to perform their natural functions and support life on Earth.’ The benefits of nature restoration take time to show so it must be agreed that these targets will be met in a timely manner. Restoring habitats and nature will not only benefit biodiversity, it will also benefit the EU’s contribution to the 2050 climate neutrality target. Science shows that we need to tackle the biodiversity crisis now before it is too late.

Fair Seas are working to create an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) in Ireland which ties in with the goals of the NRL and the work of several European Marine NGO’s. A main goal is to get a legal definition of a ‘Marine Protected Area’ into Irish law as there is currently none. The Irish government published the general scheme of the MPA legislation in December 2022 and Fair Seas has produced a white paper outlining the asks of the campaign to ensure this new legislation provides effective marine protection.
Many of the areas of interest in Irish waters noted in the recent report Revitalising Our Seas , have ecosystems which will directly impact climate change positively if they are protected. Many of these areas are also home to several species which fall under Annex IV of the Habitats Directive and are meant to be protected in their natural ranges. Restoring and protecting these areas through a NRL would get Ireland well on the way to hitting the biodiversity targets which they have promised to meet.

By Grace Carr