Politics & Economics

“The Green Deal is still alive”. EU ministers save the game on nature restauration law

June 2024
By Editorial Staff

“The Green Deal is still alive; the critics were wrong”. The European commissioner for Environment, Virginijus Sinkevicius, claimed in these words the success of the EU Environment Council in breaking the deadlock on the approval of the nature restauration law. A final text of the regulation was agreed upon in the autumn of 2023 during the Spanish presidency semester but turned to be over the months the battleground for opposite views on climate policy. “I hope that political-ideological battles are over now and we will move on into the implementation of this landmark agreement working closely with the Member States”, Sinkevicius added.

The necessary qualified majority to formally adopt the law was found after the turnaround of Austrian minister, Leonore Gewessler. She voted in favour based on the consultation she claimed to have undertaken with lawyers. The Austrian endorsement was small enough to exceed the threshold of the number of States representing at least 65% of the European population to pass the law. Gewessler’s vote will probably cause a government crisis since the Austrian Federal Chancellery threatened to refer to the European Court of Justice to annul a decision taken in its view against the will of the Austrian citizens and in the absence of a unanimous agreement between the nine federate States.

During a press conference, the minister for the Environment of the Brussels regional government acting on behalf of the Belgian presidency, Alain Maron, made clear that the vote cast by the minister is incontestable as it is in line with the representational power accorded by European treaties.

The law will enter into force with its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union and aims to put measures in place to restore at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030, and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. It sets specific, legally binding targets and obligations for nature restoration in terrestrial, marine, freshwater and urban ecosystems.

Until 2030, member states will prioritize Natura 2000 sites when implementing the restoration measures. On habitats deemed in poor condition, as listed in the regulation, Member States will take measures to restore at least 30% by 2030, 60% by 2040 and 90% by 2050. Member States are called upon to agree on national nature restauration plans with the European Commission over the next two years to prevent significant deterioration of areas that have reached good condition thanks to restoration and host the terrestrial and marine habitats listed in the regulation.

National governments will be asked to take ecosystem-specific measures aiming to enhance three different types of ecosystems – agricultural land, forests and urban contexts – two indicators among grassland butterflies’ population, stock of organic carbon in cropland mineral soils and share of agricultural land with high-diversity landscape features. Further requirements are asked to Member States to meet the objective of turning at least 25 thousand kilometres of rivers into free-flowing rivers by 2030.

Although the green light to the nature restauration law was an unthinkable achievement, it was not the only file which the ministers convened in Luxembourg had to discuss. They also reached a general approach to a targeted revision of the framework directive on food and textile wastes. The proposed directive sets binding targets on food waste to reduce them by 10% in processing and manufacturing and 30% per capita in retail, restaurants, food services and households by 2030 and compared to the amount generated in 2020.

The text adopted by the Council introduces an obligation for textile producers to pay fees to contribute to waste collection and treatment costs. Ministers also agreed to include microenterprises in the scope of the directive. As set in the text states can require higher fees for companies following ‘fast fashion’ industrial and commercial practices. Lower ones are suggested to be applied to operators pursuing a reuse policy for the selling of their products.

A general approach was reached also on the so-called “green claims directive”. The text addresses the consumers’ need for reliable, comparable and verifiable environmental claims. Written or oral texts used by companies to show the environmental friendliness of their activity fall in the scope of the directive to address vague, misleading and unfounded information. Ministers are asking companies to use clear criteria and the latest scientific evidence to substantiate their claims and labels.

Moreover, according to the general approach, environmental claims and labels should be clear and easy to understand, with a specific reference to the environmental characteristics they cover. A simplified procedure exempts certain companies from third-party verification but requires the submission of a technical document. Climate-related claims such as those based on carbon credits offsetting emissions produced through economic activity have to explicitly show the quantity of carbon credits and the percentage of total greenhouse gas emissions that have been offset.

The two directives will now be subject to interinstitutional negotiation as soon as the new European Parliament takes office. The agreed final text will thereafter be approved by the two co-legislators.