EU passes landmark law to restore 20% of land and sea by 2030 despite fierce opposition

In a narrow vote, the EU adopts a crucial nature restoration law, sparking controversy and political turmoil.


The European Union has passed a landmark nature restoration law after a narrow and contentious vote, aiming to restore 20% of the bloc’s land and sea by the end of the decade. This decision concludes months of deadlock amid fierce protests from farmers and significant political tension among member states.

The nature restoration law, a key element of the European Green Deal, sets ambitious targets to reverse environmental decline. It includes provisions to halt the decline of pollinator populations by 2030, restore drained peatlands, and plant at least 3 billion trees. The law’s passage marks a shift from merely protecting and conserving nature to actively restoring it.

The voting process was fraught with uncertainty until the last moments. Environment ministers approved the law with a wafer-thin majority, achieving the necessary qualified majority of 55% of member states representing at least 65% of the EU population. The final tally showed 20 countries in favor of the law, with Finland, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Sweden voting against it. Belgium abstained.

Austria’s role was pivotal in tipping the scales. Leonore Gewessler, Austria’s Green climate minister, played a crucial part by supporting the law despite fierce opposition from her coalition partners. Chancellor Karl Nehammer had attempted to block her vote, arguing that she did not have the authority to take this position. This dispute escalated to the highest levels of Austrian politics, with Nehammer’s party announcing it would seek criminal charges against Gewessler for alleged abuse of power.

The law faced significant opposition from farmers and various political factions. The EU’s biggest farming lobby group, Copa and Cogeca, criticized the slim majority that passed the law, calling it a “flawed proposal” that would lead to legal battles at regional, national, and European levels. Opponents cited concerns over the administrative burdens and costs associated with implementing the law.

Political divisions were evident throughout the process. The proposal nearly collapsed in the European Parliament last year and faced further challenges in March when Hungary unexpectedly withdrew its support. Subsequent negotiations, led by Ireland, were crucial in winning over enough member states to secure the law’s passage. The final approval was only achieved after last-minute changes of heart by Slovakia and Austria.

The environmental implications of the law are significant. According to the European Environment Agency, 81% of European habitats are in poor condition. The nature restoration law aims to address this alarming decline and fulfill commitments made by the EU at the 2022 biodiversity summit in Montreal.

Economic considerations also played a central role in the debate. Critics argued that the law lacked clear and consistent funding for ecosystem restoration, contributing to the controversy and resistance. Despite these challenges, supporters believe the law is a critical step toward addressing the biodiversity crisis.

Supporters of the law celebrated its passage as a historic win for Europe’s nature. César Luena, a centre-left MEP from Spain who led the European Parliament’s negotiations on the law, emphasized the transition from protecting to actively restoring nature. Magnus Heunicke, Denmark’s environment minister, highlighted the urgency of tackling the global biodiversity crisis and meeting citizens’ expectations for decisive action.

Environmental groups and campaigners also welcomed the law’s passage. Špela Bandelj Ruiz, a Greenpeace biodiversity campaigner, acknowledged the law’s weakening due to political compromises but described the deal as a “ray of hope” for Europe’s nature and future generations. A coalition of environmental groups led by WWF Europe called for swift implementation of the legislation.

Immediate actions are required to ensure the law’s success. Environmental groups are urging member states to implement the legislation without delay. The law includes specific targets for restoring habitats and ecosystems, which will require coordinated efforts across the EU.

Long-term goals include monitoring progress toward the 2030 targets and ensuring compliance. The law’s success will depend on addressing implementation challenges and securing the necessary funding for restoration projects.

The passage of the EU’s nature restoration law represents a significant milestone in environmental policy. Despite fierce opposition and political tension, the law sets ambitious targets to restore 20% of the EU’s land and sea by 2030. As environmental groups celebrate this historic win, the focus now shifts to implementing the legislation and addressing the biodiversity crisis.

“Despite the weakening of the law, this deal offers a ray of hope for Europe’s nature, future generations, and the livelihoods of rural communities,” said Špela Bandelj Ruiz, a Greenpeace biodiversity campaigner.


If you liked this article, please donate $5 to keep NationofChange online through November.