Climate ministry adviser: EU Parliament watered down nature restoration law

Aveliina Helm.
Aveliina Helm. Source: Lauri Varik / ERR

The European Parliament's decision on Wednesday, in which it backed the EU nature restoration law, while also making a series of amendments, means it has been watered down so much, that if adopted it would have little impact on Estonia, said science adviser to the Estonian Ministry of Climate adviser Aveliina Helm.

Speaking on morning radio show "Vikerhommik," Helm, who is a professor of restoration ecology at the University of Tartu, said, that the regulation originally put forward by the European Commission was very good from a scientific perspective. "The indicators that were chosen and the targets that were set were strongly science-based and necessary and worked well together," she said.

However, this was not the version that was voted for earlier this week.

"If it could have been adopted as it originally was, it would have had a really positive effect on our nature, on European nature, on Europe's climate resilience as well as on people's lives and futures, and on our children's futures," Helm explained.

"Unfortunately, the vote, [which took place] the day before yesterday went in such a way that a lot of important objectives were removed, including practically everything related to agriculture. So, nothing seems to be changing here for Estonia at the moment, or for Europe as a whole," Helm said.

"It has also been left in such a watered down state that it is difficult, to say the least, to see at this stage whether anything will change in Estonia, because the same objectives that were actually already in the original regulation (that proposed by the European Commission - ed.), we are already striving towards in our development plans and in our actions, one way or another," Helm added.

"Now, unfortunately, we are in a situation where this landmark regulation has been adopted, and that is a good thing, because it shows that people still have a great interest in nature and are at least to some extent beginning to understand the importance of this vital issue. However, on the other hand, the current version of it is still so weak that I really hope there will be a chance to tweak it a bit, so that it will actually be of use," Helm said.

Final text of law still to be agreed

On Wednesday, the European Parliament gave its initial approval by a narrow majority, to the nature restoration law, which had been proposed by the European Commission. However, the law's scope will be significantly reduced in comparison to that original proposal.

Representatives of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, will now enter into negotiations to agree on the final text of the regulation, which will subsequently require the approval from both sides.

The law will establish rules for the restoration of ecosystems both on land and at sea. The aim of ecosystem restoration is to mitigate the impact of climate change and halt soil degradation.

The law sets out a framework for EU Member States to establish effective, baseline-based restoration measures, with the aim of collectively covering at least 20 percent of all land and sea areas by 2030 and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. To meet these targets, the EU will allocate around €100 billion for biodiversity-related expenditure, including restoration, under its current Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).

According to Helm, while up to now relatively passive approaches have been taken toward conservation, it has become clear that the targets set for preventing the decline in biodiversity have not been met in this way. "It is now clear that the goals we set earlier are simply not working, that we are not able to halt the damage to nature with these actions," Helm said.

"And restoring nature's biodiversity means that we have to take a very focused look at what the damaging factors are that are destroying the nature around us," she said, adding that it is also necessary to be more proactive to ensure nature can start to recover.

"Sometimes it is not really necessary to do a lot, but just to look around at some practices, to be more careful in ensuring, for example, in cities, agricultural landscapes and forests, that activities are being carried out, which are scientifically proven to help to return certain species to a good state," Helm explained.

Helm: Restoring nature brings economic benefits

Commenting on the claim that for every €1 invested in restoring biodiversity, €8-38 is made in return, Helm said there are a wide range of reasons to ensure nature is maintained and restored.

"Perhaps a good analogy is to think of the nature around us as the infrastructure we need to live, which needs to function in the same way as the infrastructure we build for our other needs. And the state of that infrastructure, the improvement of that same infrastructure, brings real benefits to people through improving the living environment. It is through that, that those functions of nature, which we desperately need, whether it's sequestering carbon, maintaining soil fertility, controlling water flows in landscapes so that cities don't flood - those activities, those qualities of nature, are also measurable in monetary terms. There is a real cost to people when nature is damaged," Helm said, adding than when the nature surrounding us is in good condition, it brings a whole host of unseen benefits.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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