Rewilding rules will affect wind farm investment, food production and housing, say opponents
A proposed EU law aimed at rewilding natural habitats risks undermining efforts to build wind farms and other renewable projects, its critics say, as the bloc attempts to reconcile efforts to drive down emissions while restoring biodiversity.
Several member states have called for changes to the draft Nature Restoration Law, which requires EU governments to reverse environmental damage. They say they want to ensure that the bill does not impede offshore wind farms and other renewable energy infrastructure, or hamper economic development.
The law calls for countries to take “restoration measures” for marine habitats in poor condition that would encompass 90 per cent of them by 2050. It also requires them to “re-establish habitats” completely in other areas by 2050.
Measures to restore the seabed and land include rewetting peat bogs in Ireland and the Baltic states, and planting trees and hedges on farmland, reducing the amount of land available for production. The world’s peatlands store twice as much carbon as the world’s forests and play a vital role in ecology, acting as a home for plants and animals around the world.
The centre-right European People’s party, the biggest group in the parliament, however, wants the law scrapped completely.
Esther de Lange, the environment policy co-ordinator for the EPP, along with several MEPs from the liberal Renew group, has proposed an amendment calling for the commission to withdraw the bill.
“It is the first time I have done that in 16 years in parliament,” she told the Financial Times.
“The commission has gone way over the top. It increases the number of areas covered too much. It is going to be extremely hard to build renewable energy projects and infrastructure. Climate and industry policy need to go hand in hand or the jobs will go to China.”
Some EU states argue the rules need to be adjusted to account for the dash to decarbonise, which was accelerated by the need to quit Russian fossil fuels in the wake of the Ukraine invasion.
The Commission said the law was part of meeting its international biodiversity commitments and reach net zero carbon emissions in 2050, “Well preserved biodiversity is the basis for sustainable growth,” it added.
“We look forward to discussing with the co-legislators how to ensure that the Nature Restoration Law can interact constructively with our equally important strategy on the build-up of renewables including through faster permitting.”
The EU has increased its binding target for renewable energy, which was launched last June, to reach 42.5 per cent of supply by 2030, almost doubling the existing share.
Only last year the EU agreed a strategy that would force member states to designate “go-to areas” for renewable energy projects with lighter planning controls.
Denmark has warned that the new law would threaten wind farm development in the North Sea, where there are big plans to create a network of turbines connected to the UK and other countries.
Germany said it was essential that the turbine networks did not overlap with restoration areas under the mandatory plans, which would make development impossible.
But the German environment ministry said: “Smart planning will avoid conflicts by way of the national restoration plan as laid out in the EU regulation on nature restoration.”
Others are concerned that they will have to pay compensation to farmers unable to use the land. “If you reclaim a peat bog that was drained and used, who pays the farmer for their loss?” asked one EU diplomat.
Some countries are also worried about the “non-deterioration” principle, under which restored habitats cannot be damaged in future. Ingrid Thijssen, president of Dutch business organisation VNO-NCW, said this would disregard other public priorities, such as housing, infrastructure, food production or investment in renewable energy.
“The one-size-fits-all approach is not suitable for such a fundamental policy,” she added. “It will bring the economy, the construction of houses and even the energy transition to a halt.”
A commission official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the proposal should not conflict with decarbonisation efforts. “Restoration is not protection. Economic activity can still be permitted. Member states have a lot of flexibility in implementation.
“The proposal is not meant to slow down the deployment of renewables.”
In western, central and eastern Europe, wetlands have shrunk by half since 1970, while 71 per cent of fish and 60 per cent of amphibian populations have declined over the past decade.
The aim is to have at least a fifth of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030 covered with nature restoration measures, and to extend such measures to all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.