When Vietnam and a group of rich countries struck up a $15.5 billion energy transition deal nearly a year ago, they set out an enticing prospect: cheap financing would help the nation leave coal behind.
But, as vague ambitions now turn into concrete plans, the reality looks rather different.
A timeline for the early closure of coal power plants is absent from the investment blueprint for the Just Energy Transition Partnership (Jetp) unveiled at a Cop28 side event on Friday. The government expects instead to operate plants “flexibly” and to rely on the controversial co-firing of biomass and ammonia with coal.
Rich countries have also largely backtracked on their initial promise to offer financial support on more attractive terms than Vietnam could already secure from investors. Nearly 60% of the money will be provided as commercial loans, while the tiny share of grants available is primarily earmarked for technical support, the 223-page document shows.
Leo Roberts, a coal transition expert at E3G, said there are “major reasons” to be concerned.
“The investment plan is no longer the pathway to replacing coal power with clean alternatives the Jetp originally promised. Instead, it focuses on expensive or unproven technologies,” he added. “Those directly undermine the pace and scale of the energy transition.”
Nearly a year after the initial announcement, Vietnam’s prime minister Pham Minh Chinh has mapped out how Vietnam aims to spend the $15.5 billion pledged by G7 nations to boost the deployment of renewables and cut dependence on coal.
Under the agreement, Vietnam aims to peak its emissions by 2030 – five years earlier than planned – and source close to half of its power from renewable energy within the same timeframe.
The development of dozens of hydropower projects across the country forms the backbone of the government’s strategy to hit the targets. A significant proportion of the donors’ money is already directly allocated to those projects. While the plants are a source of low-emission energy, the construction of dams and reservoirs has caused social and environmental issues in the country, including displacement and water scarcity.
The Vietnamese government also plans to expand its power grid, bolster battery storage, and invest in offshore wind and solar.
Contested coal conversion
New coal plants will continue to be built until 2030, while the government drafts a more detailed plan to deal with existing ones.
A phase-out of coal power plants at a large scale “is not feasible in the near-term” – the investment plan states – “but some older plants may be able to transition to alternative energy sources and uses”. In particular, those that have operating for at least 20 years will begin a phased conversion to biomass and ammonia “provided the price is right”.
NGOs have criticised the use of biomass co-firing, on the basis it prolongs the life of coal plants, emits more CO2 than is commonly accounted for and harms forest ecosystems. Ammonia co-firing is “very costly and has limited feasibility for deployment at scale”, according to E3G.
Loans not grants
A major issue is rich countries are reluctant to commit public money as grants. None have directly allocated finance to retire coal plants early. The plan refers to a need for social security and retraining of workers affected by the transition, but it is unclear who will pay for this.
Contributors prefer to invest in renewable energy projects, which bring a return through electricity sales.
Over half of the $8 billion in public finance will be “commercial” loans disbursed by development banks. Cheaper loans on concessional terms represent roughly a third of the package. Grants make up less than 4% of the money offered by governments, with guarantees and equity contributing to the total.
Commercial banks, part of the GFANZ coalition, are expected to invest the remaining $7.5 billion of the package.
At the launch event, the Vietnamese prime minister was flanked by the EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and the UK net zero minister Claire Coutinho.
Von der Leyen called the partnership “a success story”. It is “a good example of everything we want to achieve here at Cop28,” she said. “We want to bring emissions down while driving economic growth up.”
She was echoed by Coutinho, who told Minh Chinh “we are uniting all our efforts behind you”. The Jetp model is “powerful”, she added, “because it is just”.
Silence over environmentalists’ crackdown
Neither of them raised concerns about human rights. The Vietnamese government has brutally cracked down on the civil society representatives that would normally have been key stakeholders in the programme.
Five environmentalists have been jailed in the last two years on tax evasion charges, which human rights groups say are trumped-up accusations. In the most recent case, Hoang Thi Minh Hong, director of the campaign group CHANGE, was handed a three-year prison sentence and a 100 million Vietnamese dong ($4,100) fine last September.
Two weeks earlier Ngo Thi To Nhien, director of an independent energy policy think-tank, had been arrested on a charge of “appropriating documents of agencies and organizations”. Nhien worked for the EU, the UN, and the World Bank and, before her detention, had reportedly provided technical advice for the development of the Jetp.
At the time, the EU, Germany, the US, and UK said they were deeply concerned about the imprisonment of environmentalists.
Campaigners decried the silence over the crackdown at the investment plan launch.
“We urge multilateral development banks and donor governments not to bulldoze ahead with the Jetp,” said Tanya Lee Roberts Davis, NGO Forum on ADB’s Just Transitions Advocacy Coordinator. “Doing so would mean acting as complicit bystanders in the silencing and reprisals faced by community rights, workers’, environmental, and climate advocates.”
The post Vietnam charts uncertain coal path as finance falls short appeared first on Climate Home News.
Climate Takes a Back Seat in High-Profile California Primary Campaigns. One Candidate Aims to Change That
Californians are still reeling from devastating floods and fires worsened by climate change, yet global warming isn’t a key issue for most voters in the primaries. That’s why Joby Bernstein is running for Congress.
You’ve probably never heard of Joby Bernstein. Judging by the polls, many in the Silicon Valley district he’s running in haven’t heard of the 28-year-old Stanford University student either. Bernstein’s campaign is flying beneath the radar—just like the climate crisis he considers an existential threat to future generations.
Cropped 28 February 2024: Chocolate crisis; Tree-planting scrutinised; EU restoration law
Welcome to Carbon Brief’s Cropped.
We handpick and explain the most important stories at the intersection of climate, land, food and nature over the past fortnight.
This is an online version of Carbon Brief’s fortnightly Cropped email newsletter. Subscribe for free here.
Tree-planting under scrutiny
TREE BLACKOUT: Almost a third of the climate benefits derived from planting trees in order to remove more CO2 from the atmosphere could be offset by changes to atmospheric chemistry and the amount of sunlight reflected back into space, according to a new Science study which was widely covered by the world’s media. Increasing tree cover can alter the reflectiveness, or “albedo”, of the land, making it darker and more absorbent of heat. This albedo effect, combined with changes to atmospheric composition, is responsible for tree-planting having a smaller climate benefit than previously suggested, according to the paper. Writing in the Conversation, the researchers said that “tackling climate change by planting trees has an intuitive appeal”, but, in reality, “could affect the climate in complex ways”.
AFRICAN RISK: Elsewhere in Science, researchers published a policy commentary article arguing that the push for tree-planting across Africa could endanger biodiverse and carbon-rich grassland ecosystems. The researchers examined the likely impact of pledges made under the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative, which seeks to restore 100m hectares of degraded land – an area the size of Egypt – by 2030. The initiative is backed by the German government, the World Bank and the non-profit World Resources Institute, according to the Financial Times. The newspaper said that the researchers estimated that half of the land earmarked for regeneration by the project is in grassy savannahs or other non-woodland areas. The Guardian added that, according to the findings, “an area the size of France is threatened by forest restoration initiatives that are taking place in inappropriate landscapes”.
‘ERAS FORESTS’: A debate about the environmental impact of Taylor Swift’s Eras tour – the highest-grossing music tour in history, which will see the singer travel by private jet to perform in 151 locations across five continents from March 2023 to December 2024 – further highlighted the limits of tree-planting to counter emissions. For Forbes, two environmental scientists suggested that Swift could help to offset her private-jet emissions and set a good example by investing heavily in an “Eras forests” carbon-offsetting scheme to replant trees in each location that she has performed in. However, writing on LinkedIn, Richard Reiss, a founder of a climate change educational game, argued that offsetting all of the emissions associated with the Eras tour would require “increasingly unrealistic, or literally impossible, amounts of carbon capture”.
EU passes ‘landmark’ law for nature restoration
‘LANDMARK’ LAW: On Tuesday, the European parliament passed a “landmark” nature restoration law, aiming to “reverse the decline of Europe’s natural habitats” with an EU-wide target of restoring 20% of degraded land and sea areas by 2030, Deutsche Welle reported. The passage of the law occurred despite opposition from farming unions and the European People’s Party – the largest party in parliament. However, the EU council still needs to give the legislation final approval before it can enter into force. Deutsche Welle wrote: “While such a green light would normally be a formality, it is not guaranteed and some recent EU policies have faced blockages and delays because of domestic pushback.” Carbon Brief has just published a piece explaining the new law and its scientific foundation.
‘POLITICAL STORM’: Euronews noted that the margin of the bill’s passage – 329 votes in favour and 275 against, with 24 abstaining – was “a margin larger than initially expected”. Politico reported that the passage of the law “mark[ed] the end of a months-long campaign to kill the legislation” from right-wing groups. However, it added that the “final text was significantly weakened during negotiations”. The “weakened” legislation gives member states more flexibility on how they will implement its guidance, the outlet added. Euronews also reported that “the eruption in January of Europe-wide farmer protests reinvigorated the backlash against the Green Deal”, with the nature restoration law “once again thrust to the centre of the political storm”.
CHAOS IN THE CAPITAL: Meanwhile, farmer protests have continued across the bloc. Reuters reported that “about 900 tractors jammed parts” of Brussels and “riot police fired water cannon at protesters throwing bottles and eggs” while agricultural ministers were meeting in the Belgian capital this week. The Associated Press reported that protesters “spray[ed] Brussels police with liquid manure” in what the newswire described as a “fresh show of force”. It added: “The ministers were keen to show that they were listening, and a group of farmers’ representatives were allowed in for talks”. According to Politico, “the stench of manure, burning tires and teargas pervaded downtown Brussels on Monday” amidst “chaotic scenes”.
SHRINKING SWEETS: The price of chocolate surged to an all-time high of just over $6,500 per tonne on the New York and London stock exchanges this week, the trade publication Confectionery Production reported. Bloomberg columnist Javier Blas boldly claimed that “the meltdown in chocolate is coming”, with bars and boxes expected to shrink as prices reach unprecedented levels. According to Blas, four countries – Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria – produce nearly 75% of the world’s cocoa. It is unusual for a major global commodity in that it is mostly grown by poor smallholder farmers, he said.
DWINDLING SUPPLIES: Prices have risen as fierce demand for cocoa has outstripped production by west African small producers, Blas said. Earlier on in February, BBC News reported that farmers have been experiencing poor harvests as a result of the El Niño weather phenomenon, which has been causing drier weather in Ghana and Ivory Coast. In December, Bloomberg reported that, before the dry weather, farmers in Ghana and Ivory Coast also faced a deluge of rainfall at a “crucial time for harvests”. It added: “Puddle-filled drives are bogging down transportation, and the soggy conditions allow diseases like black pod to run rampant, causing beans to rot on trees.”
CLIMATE INFLUENCE: West Africa has seen an increase in agricultural droughts because of climate change, according to the most recent assessment of the continent by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report also found that human-caused climate change has already contributed to an increase in heavy rainfall and flooding across nearly all parts of Africa. Back in October, Dr Izidine Pinto, a climate scientist from Mozambique currently working at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, told Carbon Brief that the impacts of climate change had combined with El Niño to cause “very unusual” weather across the continent.
News and views
BRAZIL BEEF: Three of the world’s largest meatpacking companies sourced beef from ranches responsible for clearing an area of forest the size of Chicago (60,000 hectares) in the Cerrado savannah, a biodiversity hotspot in Brazil, alleged a new investigation by Global Witness covered by BBC News. The investigation said that deforestation linked to Brazil’s three biggest meatpackers – JBS, Marfrig and Minerva – was nearly five times greater in the Cerrado area of Mato Grosso than in the neighbouring Amazon rainforest, where the companies have legal agreements for monitoring their supplies. All three companies dispute Global Witness’s findings and said they are compliant with Brazilian law on deforestation and have their own individual supply chain agreements with Brazilian authorities.
ELEPHANT FATALITIES: Seven people in Malawi have been killed by elephants after the animals were moved as part of a conservation project overseen by two wildlife organisations, including one that was headed by Prince Harry, the Guardian reported. More than 250 elephants were moved from Liwonde national park in southern Malawi to the country’s second-largest protected area, Kasungu, in 2022, the outlet said. After the move, local communities warned that sections of electric fence designed to keep elephants and humans separate were incomplete, the newspaper added. The fatalities reportedly occurred when elephants came into contact with people outside of their protected area, it explained. In a statement seen by the Guardian, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, one of the groups involved in the project, apologised and pledged to finish installing the fence in 2024.
CALI CONFERENCE: Santiago de Cali, or Cali, will host the COP16 biodiversity summit in October, Colombian president Gustavo Petro announced last week. Cali is the country’s third-most-populous city and is the capital of the Colombian Pacific – the “most biodiverse region of Colombia”, Petro said in his remarks. According to a press release from the Colombian environment ministry, the Pacific region contains more than 200 protected areas and nearly 1,300 species of fauna. Colombia One, citing sources within the government, wrote: “The ethnic and cultural diversity of the region has played an important role in this decision.”
DRAX INVESTIGATION: The Panorama investigations team at BBC News has found evidence that the Drax biomass power station in North Yorkshire is still “burning wood from some of the world’s most precious forests”. It said: “Papers obtained by Panorama show Drax took timber from rare forests in Canada it had claimed were ‘no go areas’.” Drax told Panorama that its wood pellets are “sustainable and legally harvested”. Elsewhere, UK prime minister Rishi Sunak caused a stir by attending a farmers’ protest against the Welsh Labour government alongside a group that “has posted conspiracy theories about climate change and which campaigns against net-zero”, the Observer reported.
‘SATURATION POINT’: A 3,378-hectare Australian farm that had been “held up by the red meat sector as a vision of the future” has not been able to offset its own emissions since around 2017, according to a new report covered by the Guardian. The farm had initially planted hundreds of thousands of trees to sequester carbon. However, the outlet added: “[T]hose trees have now matured and passed peak sequestration…and the soil is so carbon rich it can’t sequester any additional CO2 from the atmosphere.” One of the farm’s owners, Mark Wootton, told the Guardian that their “regenerative approach to farming” is still beneficial, even if the farm is no longer carbon-neutral.
‘MEATY’ RICE: Scientists in South Korea have invented “meaty” rice, a hybrid food which they argue could provide an affordable and climate-friendly source of protein, BBC News reported. It explained: “The porous grains are packed with beef muscle and fat cells, grown in the lab. The rice was first coated in fish gelatine to help the beef cells latch on, and the grains were left in a petri dish to culture for up to 11 days.” The scientists, whose research was published in the journal Matter, told BBC News that the food may serve as “relief for famine, military ration or even space food” in the future.
Watch, read, listen
GRAN CHACO: Diálogo Chino reported on how livestock farmers in Argentina’s Gran Chaco are searching for more sustainable farming methods.
FAIR FOR FARMERS: A grassroots farmers’ advocacy non-profit in Florida was behind the “strongest set of workplace heat protections in the US”, the Washington Post wrote.
INDIGENOUS SPOTLIGHT: For the New York Times, law professor Robert Williams argued that “kicking native people off their land is a horrible way to save the planet”.
RAIN ON YOUR PARADE: Rain in the Arctic – increasingly common in a warmer world – is bringing a “cascade of troubling changes”, Yale Environment 360 wrote.
A new study estimated the biodiversity footprints of 151 popular local dishes from around the world when globally and locally produced. It found that the dishes with the highest biodiversity impacts tend to be those made up of ingredients grown in biodiversity hotspots where agriculture pressures are high, such as fraldinha, a beef dish originating from Brazil, and chana masala, a chickpea curry popular in India. To come up with the results, the researchers considered popular dishes and a range of biodiversity indicators associated with the ingredients of each. The researchers added: “Regardless of assuming locally or globally produced, feedlot or pasture livestock production, vegan and vegetarian dishes presented lower biodiversity footprints than dishes containing meat.”
Rapid sea level rise causes loss of seagrass meadows
Communications Earth & Environment
“Unprecedented” and “rapid” sea level rise drove two common seagrass species out of nearly one-quarter of the sites monitored in the western Gulf of Mexico, according to new research. Scientists used data from long-term ecological monitoring sites, gulf-wide measurements of sea level rise and models of future sea level rise to determine how rising waters might affect seagrass meadows in the future. At one station, they found that two “ubiquitous” species “vanished altogether in just five years”. In modelling future risk, they found 14,000 square kilometres of seagrass habitat could be at risk of disappearing completely by 2050.
New research found that changes in the Arctic sea ice extent influence the northward spread of the boreal forest, as well as the size of trees there. By combining data from field sites in northern Alaska with satellite data and previously published data from around the Arctic, researchers found a causal link between the advance of the forest and the retreat of the sea ice. They discovered that around the Arctic, “proportionally more tree lines have advanced” in regions of ongoing ice loss. The scientists concluded that “warming and reduced habitat for tundra organisms due to boreal forest advance will critically affect resource availability for Arctic-dwelling people”.
In the diary
- 26 February-1 March: Sixth session of the UN environment assembly | Nairobi
- 29 February: Power Shift Africa event on navigating adaptation post COP28 | Online
- 1 March: 36th meeting of the IPCC Task Force Bureau | Brisbane
- 10 March: Portugal parliamentary elections
The post Cropped 28 February 2024: Chocolate crisis; Tree-planting scrutinised; EU restoration law appeared first on Carbon Brief.
Q&A: What does the EU ‘nature restoration’ law mean for climate and biodiversity?
The EU’s law to restore nature was given the green light by the European parliament this week.
The long-awaited “nature restoration” law aims to repair the EU’s damaged ecosystems over the next few decades.
The law became a focal point for misinformation in recent months and saw strong levels of opposition from different groups.
It passed through a final parliament vote on 27 February, with 329 votes in favour, 275 against and 24 abstentions – a larger margin of approval than a knife-edge vote last summer.
It now needs to be approved by the council of the EU before it can take effect.
In this Q&A, Carbon Brief explains the aims of the nature restoration law, the challenges it faced, its scientific backing and what it will mean for climate change and biodiversity loss in the EU.
- What is the EU nature restoration law?
- Will the law help the EU meet its climate and biodiversity goals?
- What is the scientific backing behind the law?
- What are the most contentious parts of the nature restoration law?
- What has been the reaction to the EU’s nature restoration law?
What is the EU nature restoration law?
Proposed in June 2022, the nature restoration law is seen by the European Commission as a key part of meeting the EU’s climate and biodiversity goals.
It aims to restore at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030.
Within this wider goal, countries need to restore 30% of habitats covered by the new law (including forests, rivers and wetlands) that are already degraded by 2030. This increases to 60% by 2040 and at least 90% by 2050.
“It is comparable to the habitats directive that was adopted in the early 90s – more than 30 years ago. It’s not like in the climate sphere that you have legislation coming up every year or every couple of years.
“For nature, with a proposal that would really impact how we use land and sea in Europe, I think this is really historic and [it is] not happening even every decade.”
The law is intended to work alongside other environmental policies on a range of issues, including birds, habitats, water and invasive alien species. Its goals also align with the new EU 2030 forest strategy, which intends to protect and restore forests across the bloc.
The law states that EU countries should, “as appropriate”, prioritise restoring habitats that are “not in good condition” and also located in Natura 2000 sites – an EU network of protected areas containing at-risk species and ecosystems – until 2030.
These areas are “essential” for nature conservation, the law says, and there is an existing EU obligation to ensure that Natura 2000 areas are covered by long-term restoration measures.
EU countries will need to submit national restoration plans to the commission to show how they plan to deliver on key targets, with requirements for monitoring and reporting on their progress towards those goals. Leemans tells Carbon Brief:
“The member states will choose where they will restore, what they will restore, how they will restore. And together the national restoration plans need to add up to the targets.”
More than 110,000 people and organisations responded to an online public consultation on the proposal in early 2021. The results showed “overwhelming support” for legally binding targets, with 97% of respondents in favour of general EU restoration targets across all ecosystems, the commission said.
The law scraped through a parliament vote in July 2023, which saw elements of the text “watered down”. (See: What are the most contentious parts of the nature restoration law?)
After further negotiations, the commission, parliament and council of the EU provisionally agreed the terms of the new law in November 2023. This passed through the final parliament vote on 27 February 2024.
There was a “last-ditch attempt from rightwing parties” to reject the law in this vote, the Guardian reported. The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political group in the parliament, voted against the law alongside “far-right lawmakers”, the newspaper said.
Civil society organisations such as the European Environmental Bureau and Friends of the Earth Europe celebrated the EU parliament passed the law “despite EPP & far-right’s attempts to block the text”.
Politico noted that the proposal’s “narrow survival underscored broader trends likely to hamper green lawmaking” after the upcoming European parliament elections in June.
The law still has to be adopted by the council of the EU before it can take effect. This is usually a formality, but Deutsche Welle reported that “it is not guaranteed and some recent EU policies have faced blockages and delays because of domestic pushback”.
The parliament’s lead negotiator on the proposal, César Luena, said the EU can now “move from protecting and conserving nature to restoring it”.
Will the law help the EU meet its climate and biodiversity goals?
The commission’s original proposal for the law said that “more decisive action” is needed to achieve the EU’s climate and biodiversity goals, adding that the bloc “has so far failed to halt the loss of biodiversity”. It said:
“The outlook for biodiversity and ecosystems is bleak and shows that the current approach is not working.”
Global and national targets are in place around the world to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss. But, currently, greenhouse gas emissions are still rising and biodiversity is declining at a level described by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) as “unprecedented”.
Despite the fact that many elements have been weakened since the first proposal, the law is intended to be one part of several solutions needed to bridge this gap between goals and action. Leemans tells Carbon Brief:
“It’s quite clear from all reports that we are still losing nature. More than 80% of the natural habitats in Europe that are listed on the habitats directive are not in a good condition. So there is really a lot of work to do.
“It’s really important to protect nature…But it’s not enough – you also need to start restoring nature where it has been lost and bring it back.”
The EU’s 2030 biodiversity strategy sets out the bloc’s plans to protect nature and improve ecosystems.
Healthier ecosystems would have a range of wider benefits, including being more resilient to climate change, reducing the impact of extreme weather and helping to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, 26% of the EU’s land and 12% of marine areas are protected.
Romina Pourmokhtari, the Swedish climate and environment minister, says the nature restoration law will hopefully help the EU “rebuild a healthy level of biodiversity, fight climate change and meet our international commitments under the Kunming-Montreal agreement”.
The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) is a set of goals and targets aiming to “halt and reverse” biodiversity loss by the end of this decade. It includes a target to conserve 30% of the world’s land and 30% of the ocean by 2030. (See Carbon Brief’s recent Q&A on progress one year since the framework was agreed.)
The map below, taken from a 2023 study, shows the existing European network of protected areas under strict protection (light blue), not-strict protection (yellow) and new protected area corridors (dark blue). EU countries are shown in dark grey. The level of the protection is based on categories from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The areas under the strictest protection have minimal presence of humans.
According to an impact assessment study published by the commission earlier this year, the economic benefits of restoring a number of different EU ecosystems – including peatlands, forests and lakes – by 2050 range at around €1.86tn, compared to the estimated €154bn cost of these actions.
The report added that, in a number of ways, the “climate mitigation benefits alone outweighed the cost of restoration action required”.
What is the scientific backing behind the law?
The scientific rationale for the EU’s nature restoration law is laid out in the commission’s impact assessment study, which considers both ecosystem restoration needs and the financing needed to implement such targets in the EU.
About 80% of habitats in the EU have “bad” or “poor” conservation status, and only 15% are in “good” condition, according to the European Environment Agency’s (EEA) 2020 “state of nature in the EU” report.
More than half of peatlands – including bogs, mires and fens – and half of dune habitats are in bad condition, the report says. Coastal habitats have the smallest area remaining in good condition.
The chart below, taken from the report, shows the percentage of habitat in good (green), unknown (grey), poor (yellow) and bad (red) condition.
As a result of the degradation of habitats, many species across the EU are in decline.
For example, pollinators are crucial for food production, but one in three bee and butterfly species are in decline, according to the council. It points out that €5bn of the EU’s annual agricultural output “can be directly attributed” to those species, but about half of the areas where pollinator-dependent crops are grown “do not provide suitable conditions for pollinators”.
The EEA assessment provides a map of the conservation status in the EU habitats, shown below. Regions in red have “bad” conservation status, regions in yellow are classified as “poor” conservation status and green areas have a “good” conservation status.
During a webinar hosted by the European Geosciences Union at the end of last year, Damien Thomson, a political advisor working within the European parliament, said the law is “largely scientifically based, but there’s room for improvement”.
In the webinar, Thomson emphasised that the commission considered the scientific merit of the legislation, but said that the scientific evidence did not hold equal weight to the political voices in the parliament.
The EU set its first nature restoration target in 2010, as part of the EU biodiversity strategy to 2020. That strategy contained a target aimed to restore “at least 15% of degraded ecosystems” by 2020.
However, the bloc did not achieve any of the six targets set out in that strategy, the impact assessment found. It stated that the restoration target was hindered by several issues, such as the lack of legally binding targets and the “ambiguity” as to which ecosystems and restoration activities it was referring to.
The new restoration law stems from the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030, which aims to establish legally binding targets to restore “significant areas of degraded and carbon-rich ecosystems by 2030”.
The strategy aims to legally protect a minimum of 30% of the land, including inland waters, and 30% of the sea in the EU by 2030. It additionally set a target to ensure that 30% of EU species and habitats reach “a favourable conservation status” and to restore at least 25,000 kilometres of free-flowing rivers by that date.
It adds that the commission and the EEA will guide countries to “select and prioritise the species and habitats for restoration measures”.
The restoration law also acknowledges that the GBF requires that at least 30% of degraded ecosystems worldwide – including terrestrial, inland water and marine and coastal ecosystems – should be “under effective restoration” by 2030.
However, the law ultimately required restoration of 20% of the EU’s lands and seas by 2030.
In a joint statement after the final vote, BirdLife Europe, ClientEarth, the European Environmental Bureau and WWF EU said they were “relieved that MEPs listened to facts and science, and did not give in to populism and fear-mongering”. The statement added:
“Now, we urge member states to follow suit and deliver this much-needed law to bring back nature in Europe.”
What are the most contentious parts of the nature restoration law?
One of the main objections against the new law was around restoration requirements for drained peatlands used for agriculture and came from political and farming groups.
Specifically, member states are required to establish measures to restore organic soil in 30% of agricultural lands lying in drained peatlands by 2030.
This can be achieved by a range of actions, which include converting cropland to permanent grassland, establishing peat-forming vegetation or fully rewetting drained peatlands to allow padiculture – sowing of crops on peatlands or on rewetted peats.
The initial proposal was intended to reach 50% of such areas by 2040 and 70% by 2050; however, the final regulation slashed those percentages to 40% and 50%, respectively.
This target faced political resistance from conservative parties, who argued that the law would threaten the livelihoods of farmers and fishers, decrease food production and push up prices. These groups raised a “relentless campaign to bring down the text”, Euronews reported.
The European People’s Party (EPP) also sought “to drastically reduce the scope of [the] plans for” peatland restoration and was “against the conversion of agricultural land for other uses”, including restoring peatlands, Deutsche Welle reported.
In response to these concerns, member states “added flexibility” to targets linked to the rewetting of peatlands and green urban spaces into their proposal, according to Euronews.
The outlet reported that Pourmokhtari, the Swedish minister, said the country’s presidency of the council had “listened carefully to all member states who had different concerns and remarks on the proposal”.
Another target that spurred strong political objection was the restoration of forest ecosystems.
The final law mandates member states to “achieve an increasing trend at national level of at least six out of seven” forest indicators, which include traits such as the amount of non-living woody biomass in standing and lying deadwood, organic carbon stocks, forest connectivity and tree species diversity.
By June 2031, EU countries need to inform the commission about their progress on restoring nature between when the law takes effect and 2030.
After this, countries need to report progress at least every six years. The first draft of the law had proposed assessments every three years.
Countries also must, by June 2028, report other information to the commission, including details around which areas will be restored.
The law says that when considering forest and other ecosystem restoration actions, countries “shall aim to contribute” to the EU’s existing goal to plant at least 3bn trees across the bloc by 2030, prioritising native tree species and adapted species.
Nordic countries “had previously pushed back against previous forestry-related targets” and were expected to oppose the nature restoration law, a parliamentary representative told Euractiv.
Sweden, for example, was “believed to be opposed” to the targets of forest management contained in the law, Euronews reported.
Opposition parties accused Finland’s government of a “failure to protect national interests” and pointed out that the law would be costly, the Helsinki Times reported in November. Riikka Purra, chairperson of the right-wing populist Finns Party, said:
“We won’t stand by pillaging Finnish forests a lot, but also not for pillaging them a bit less.”
In response, Finland’s prime minister, Sanna Marin, said her country would accept the proposal if it included amendments and met “Finland’s overall interests”, the outlet said. It added that the government was pushing for the restoration measures to be “voluntary for land owners”, since forest policy “falls strictly” within national policy.
Following negotiations by the EU parliament, commission and council last year, a statement from WWF said the law had been “watered down”, with “disappointing” exemptions and “excessive flexibility” on some requirements.
Despite this, Leemans believes the law will lead to improvements for European ecosystems. But, she adds:
“The key will be the implementation.”
What has been the reaction to the EU’s nature restoration law?
Since the law was first proposed in 2022, it has received support from a range of groups, including wind energy and solar power associations, hundreds of scientists, dozens of major companies, an EU organic farming representative group and NGOs such as WWF, BirdLife International and Greenpeace.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature called on the EU to adopt the law and Wetlands International Europe, a non-governmental group of wetland preservation organisations, said the law will help to “secure the future of our vital wetlands”.
Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg was among a group of climate activists calling for a strong nature restoration law outside the European parliament building in Strasbourg last July.
There were two key opponents to the proposed law – the major agricultural lobby group Copa-Cogeca and the EPP.
The party also claimed that the targets will lead to a “global famine” alongside higher food prices and increased imports of “unsafe food that does not meet EU standards”. These claims have been rebutted by a number of experts.
An open letter signed by 3,000 scientists in June last year pushed back on claims that the law will harm farmers and threaten food security. The letter says that these kinds of claims “not only lack scientific evidence, but even contradict it”, Reuters reported.
“Green-minded” lawmakers, scientists and environmental groups said the EPP was opposing nature and climate policies to “score political points in rural constituencies” in the upcoming parliament elections, Politico reported last November.
In a correspondence to the scientific journal Nature, Dr Kris Decleer, a researcher at Belgium’s Research Institute for Nature and Forest, and Prof An Cliquet, a researcher at Ghent University, wrote that opponents to the law were “influenced by lobbyists in favour of intensive agriculture, fisheries and the forestry industry, who say that the law would cut jobs and undermine food and energy security”.
Many farmers will be directly impacted by the nature restoration law and it featured among the concerns of farmers protesting across the EU in recent months (see Carbon Brief’s analysis of how these protests relate to climate change).
The commission’s impact assessment for the law said that the farming, forestry and fishery sectors are likely to be most impacted through, for example, lost income from less intensive extractive management in forestry. However, it also said that these sectors stand to benefit in the long-term, as they will be more resilient to extreme weather and reduce the risks of pest outbreaks as a result.
There are also farm-related exemptions in the law, including an option to halt certain targets for agricultural ecosystems in case of any “unforeseeable and exceptional events outside of the EU’s control and with severe EU-wide consequences for food security”. This was added to the text in November last year. (See: What are the most contentious parts of the nature restoration law?)
The law includes further leeway for countries to potentially set lower restoration targets for certain ecosystems in specific circumstances.
Leemans, from WWF EU, tells Carbon Brief that criticisms from the EPP and others were “mainly misinformation, and really on an unprecedented scale”. She says:
“We’ve never seen such an aggressive campaign against a legal proposal coming from the commission. It was really putting the [EU] Green Deal in jeopardy because the nature restoration law is the biodiversity pillar of the Green Deal, and it’s really a very important piece of the puzzle.”
She adds that while the EPP may claim it is “protecting or defending the farmers’ concerns”, she believes “they are doing the opposite”. She says:
“All science tells you the same – it’s healthy ecosystems that need to be in place to ensure food security. Agriculture needs healthy soils, needs water retention, needs flooding and drought prevention, pollination and all this depends on healthy ecosystems.
“It’s very cynical to tell people that you’re defending farmers and actually blocking one of the solutions for farmers.”
The post Q&A: What does the EU ‘nature restoration’ law mean for climate and biodiversity? appeared first on Carbon Brief.
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