Failure to ratify EU nature restoration law could have far-reaching impacts, Eamon Ryan warns

Sweden, Poland and the Netherlands have said they will not support the legislation

The EU’s controversial nature restoration law is at risk of being scuttled by a failure to ratify it at an Environment Council meeting in Brussels, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan has said.

This “very worrying” outcome could have far-reaching consequences for the processing of EU legislation, he said.

For what is normally a formality, after votes in the European Parliament, committees and agreement between EU institutions, the council met on March 25th. However, Sweden, Poland and the Netherlands said they would not support the law – denying it the majority needed for approval. Belgium, holder of the EU presidency, and Austria signalled they would abstain.

The European Union’s nature restoration law will put 20 per cent of land and sea under recovery measures by 2030, expanding until 2050, with up to 81 per cent of habitats in poor condition.

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Irish MEPs supported the law despite some opposition from agribusiness, but late amendments watered down some provisions, including deleting an essential article on the restoration of agricultural ecosystems, including drained peatlands; delaying implementation of the law pending further reports on food security impacts; and deleting targets on marine habitats.

Mr Ryan said the law was “rescuable” but noted a number of countries changed their positions. “That’s a problem because we negotiated with the parliament and the commission. We agreed an outcome, and then countries changed position after that fact. It means those negotiations won’t deliver unless we get the qualified majority.”

He said: “It’s bad for nature and bad for farming. We have real opportunity to create new income streams, to protect nature and to support particularly a new generation of people to go into farming and forestry. This would undermine it.”

Such an outcome would also be bad for climate change “because nature-based solutions are cornerstone to what we need to do. And if we don’t start addressing that land use element of the climate problem, then everything else will be to no avail. So on a number of fronts, it’s deeply worrying. It’s not concluded yet, but it’s not looking good”.

The Minister felt Ireland was in a better place because it was undertaking a land use review, “which in effect, will allow us to come up with the same sort of plan”. Funding for this would come under the new €3.15 billion climate and nature fund.

“It creates real political uncertainty about our ambition in protecting nature and addressing climate and that’s the last thing we need at the moment,” Mr Ryan said.

Minister of State for Nature Malcolm Noonan said Ireland had committed to a nature restoration plan, irrespective of whether the EU law is passed, but underlined an EU law would be of benefit to farmers.

“It’s outrageous that the nature restoration law is being held to ransom in Europe. There is no legitimate argument against restoring nature. It’s vital for climate resilience, food security and public health. Delivering it will bring huge benefits to communities, both rural and urban, with significant returns on investment,” he said.

Ecologist Pádraic Fogarty echoed concerns about the last-minute way the law was derailed. “There is now a contest among some politicians, particularly on the right, to see who can dismantle the green agenda most, lumping nature protection in with ‘woke ideology’. The nature restoration law is just one victim,” he said.

Procedurally, this condemns the law to zombie status, he believed. “Technically there is hope if those countries can change their minds, but this seems unlikely. It’s a huge blow to the European public, which is increasingly alarmed at the deterioration of the natural environment, but also to the EU itself, which had hoped to be seen as a global leader in addressing the extinction crisis.”

Among farmer organisations, the ICMSA said the decision was correct and the law should be reassessed. The IFA said it should be parked until after the European elections while the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association welcomed what happened.

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