Friday, May 24, 2024

Ministers mount last-ditch attempt to save EU laws on restoring nature

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A last-ditch attempt to try to save the EU’s nature restoration laws from oblivion has been mounted by 11 member states, which are racing to get the legislation over the line in the next four weeks.

In a move led by Ireland, 11 environment ministers have written to countries that have said they will either abstain or vote against ratification of the laws, urging them to think again.

“Europe is the fastest-warming continent and is facing unprecedented impacts from the intertwined nature and climate crises,” the ministers told their counterparts in countries including Hungary, Sweden, Belgium, Finland, Austria and Poland.

Among the countries that signed the letter were Germany, France and Spain. The Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Lithuania and Slovenia also signed.

Ireland’s environment minister, Eamon Ryan, said: “We must act urgently and decisively to conclude the political process. Failure to do so would be a carte blanche to destroy nature and would fundamentally undermine public faith in the EU’s political leadership at home and internationally.”

The proponents of the laws fear that if they are not ratified by July, when Hungary takes over the EU presidency, they may never be revived.

The laws, which were two years in the making, would oblige member states to restore at least 20% of land and sea habitat in poor condition to a good condition by 2030, increasing to 60% by 2040 and 90% by 2050. This would be measured in part by grassland butterfly and farmland bird populations.

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The legislation also calls for 3bn trees to be planted and for action to be taken to ensure there is no net loss in the total amount of urban green space in Europe.

MEPs voted the laws through in February after a series of clashes with centre-right politicians who appeared spooked by the rise of the far right, apt to use farmers’ protests to attack the EU.

But to get on the statute books, the laws needed the final seal of approval of member states through qualified majority.

At a leaders’ summit in March, Sweden, the Netherlands and Italy were opposed, but the bill still had a slim majority to pass at a meeting of environment ministers a few days later. At the last minute, Hungary changed its position.

Ministers warned that not ratifying the laws would destroy the EU’s reputation globally, given the lead it had taken on the Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework, which was adopted by the European Union and member states in December 2022.

The letter said: “Failure to do so would mean we will have to go to the United Nations biodiversity conference in Cali, Colombia, in October later this year and say we are resiling from our international promises to protect our lands and seas.”

The next opportunity for a vote is 17 June in Luxembourg, when environment ministers meet again. Sources said they need just one country to switch sides.

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