The Nature Restoration Law is a turning point for Europe’s wetland ecosystems
The European Union’s Nature Restoration Law, recently approved in trilogue, is the continent’s most ambitious piece of nature restoration legislation to date. Peatlands, storing more carbon globally than all the world’s forests, are central on the agenda. With this strategic direction, European governments, NGOs, and companies need to collaborate on rolling out rewetting solutions. A Europe-wide alliance like the European Peatlands Initiative, is one promising solution.
This month marked a turning point for Europe’s ecosystems. The details of the European Union’s Nature Restoration Law – the most ambitious piece of nature legislation in Europe to date – were agreed upon by European heads of state and lawmakers, planting seeds for a new relationship with nature on the continent.
The Nature Restoration Law includes targets to:
- Restore 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 90% by 2050.
- Plant an additional 3 billion trees
- Restore 25000 km of rivers
- Ensure zero net loss of urban green space and urban tree canopy cover
With the compass point set, the work now falls to national governments across Europe to develop initiatives to revitalise damaged ecosystems.
Peatlands recognised as important ecosystems for restoration
A significant inclusion of the Restoration Law is the provision for peatland restoration. Peatlands have twice the carbon storage capacity of all the world’s forests. However, when peatland ecosystems are dried out for other uses – including agriculture, grazing and building – millions of tons of carbon dioxide escape from the soil. Damaged wetlands emit more carbon dioxide than global shipping and aviation combined.
Under the Law, EU countries are required to put measures in place to restore at least 30% of drained peatlands by 2030, increasing to 40% by 2040, and 50% by 2050.
“The Restoration Law represents a significant opportunity to further our shared commitment to peatland conservation.” our restoration task force Peatlands Europe wrote in a recent statement. “This legislation is a crucial opportunity to advance peatland conservation and restoration across Europe, in particular supporting the mobilisation of Governments, research partners and NGOs.”
Peatlands Europe emphasises the importance of collaborative efforts and is committed to developing sustainable business models for farmers and landowners, aligning economic interests with environmental objectives. They stress the need for enhancing advocacy, fostering partnerships, and innovating in line with EU environmental policies.
Building an alliance to make restoration happen – the European Peatlands Initiative
With the strategic vision set for fully restored European nature, now the work begins at the national level to reach these targets.
“The Nature Restoration Law is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to address the biodiversity and climate crises and support ecosystem restoration all across Europe,” said Dr. Sebastiaan van Herk, Bax & Company CEO.
“But to bring together national governments, academia, NGOs and mission-driven companies to work together, Europe needs to speak with a common voice and work as a common body to rewet our peatlands.”
One option for European collaboration on Peatlands is the European Peatlands Initiative (EPI). In 2022, the Government of Ireland; specifically the Ministry of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; published a report on the need for such a pan-continental initiative and European collaboration.
With support from the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, the Netherlands Ministry of Agriculture, and UNEP’s Global Peatlands Initiative, as well as EUKI, Eurosite, and Wetlands International, the EPI aims to bring together committed parties from government, business, and civil society to put rewetting into action and build scalable strategies for large-scale peatlands restoration. However, it has encountered a roadblock in transitioning from the exploratory phase to the Preparatory Phase. The initial common vision for the EPI will be refined and defined over the next year before the expected launch in 2024.
“This makes the need for a pan-European alliance even clearer,” said Lisa Wiatschka, who presented the European Peatlands Initiative at the Power to the Peatlands Conference in Antwerp. “We need stronger collaboration among countries to increase financial flows to peatlands restoration, and make rewetting an attractive option for farmers and landowners”.
“While the Restoration Law is a victory for biodiversity and climate mitigation across Europe, there is more work to be done” she added, “There are still gaps in the Law. A crucial one is that rewetting peatlands will be voluntary for farmers and private landowners. New business models and incentives for these actors are needed if we want to see a full transformation of our ecosystems.”
For European organisations committed to revitalising Europe’s wetlands, talk to our Nature team to learn how Peatlands Europe and the European Peatlands Initiative can provide you with the resources and strategies you need.
Reactions to the Restoration Law from leading figures on ecosystem restoration
This legislative milestone has also resonated with other leading figures in the field, each bringing their unique perspective and expertise to the forefront of this ecological mission.
Dianna Kopansky (Global Peatlands Initiative Coordinator, UNEP):
Highlighting the importance of peatland restoration, Dianna Kopansky noted that “restoring drained peatlands is one of the most cost-effective measures to reduce emissions in the agricultural sector and improve biodiversity.” Kopansky emphasised the need for EU countries to implement restoration measures for organic soils in agricultural use, particularly focusing on drained peatlands.
Frans Schepers (Co-founder, Rewilding Europe):
Frans Schepers acknowledged the progress while also pointing out the compromises made, “While we are pleased that all ecosystems originally covered by the law are still included in the agreement, the articles have been watered down.” He urged Member States and the EU Parliament to approve the trilogue agreement without delay, emphasising the urgency of restoration work to combat the climate and nature crisis.
Ionut Sorin Banciu (Secretary of State, Romania):
Ionut Sorin Banciu, Romania’s Secretary of State in the Ministry of Environment, Waters and Forests expressed gratitude for the efforts behind this environmental regulation and anticipates its positive impact, especially on Romania’s biodiversity and environmental quality, “We look forward to seeing the positive impact of this historic initiative on biodiversity and environmental quality in Romania.” His perspective reflects the broader implications of the law for EU member states.
Ester Asin Martinez (Director, WWF European Policy Office):
Ester Asin Martinez celebrated the progress made, emphasising the collective effort and adaptability of environmental advocates. She notes, “Today, Europe is a bit greener and healthier,” highlighting the collaborative nature of this achievement.
Learn more about preservation and restoration for Europe’s peatlands
Our Nature team’s work builds and supports cross-continent alliances of practitioners to conserve, restore, and regenerate Europe’s most important natural ecosystems. If you’re a practitioner restoring natural landscapes, we would love to hear about your project.