The Irish Times view on the EU Nature Restoration Law: the State must lead the way

Work must begin immediately to communicate to all stakeholders, and to provide private landowners and fishers with adequate incentives to implement this law

Austrian Minister for Climate Action and the Environment, Leonore Gewessler, who cast the vital vote in favour of the EU Nature Restoration Law on Monday. (Photo by Henrik Montgomery/ TT News Agency / AFP)

The approval of the EU’s Nature Restoration Law yesterday by the European Council is, on paper, a significant advance in the union’s response to the biodiversity and climate crises that are, along with the interlinked struggles for equality, human rights and peace, the defining issues of our century.

Irish ministers, especially from the Green Party, deserve great credit for helping to rescue the law, after a u-turn by Hungary seemed to doom it at a Council meeting in March, despite the European Parliament having backed it. An equally surprising switch by Austria yesterday just about saved the law.

Much more work now remains to be done, and rapidly, if the law is to halt and reverse the landscape degradation that threatens the future of every EU citizen. The most important task is to gain the confidence, co-operation and compliance of those who manage our landscapes, public and private, and those who fish our seas. And that requires much better communication, and much better incentives, than heretofore.

The law has already been heavily amended, with key mandatory commitments made simply voluntary. This was in response to opposition by many farmers’ and fishers’ organisations. Their legitimate fears were blatantly stoked with outrageous lies about the law by the far right, and by Manfred Weber’s irresponsible leadership of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP). Moreover, the recent elections to the European Parliament have returned more MEPs hostile to – or questioning of – the law.


The irony is that it is farmers and fishers who will suffer – are already suffering – the most immediate impacts of the environmental crises the law seeks to remedy. Ever more extreme weather events – droughts, wildfires and floods -- accelerate direct landscape degradation. So more and more crops are failing, while over-fishing and reckless trawling destroys the reproductive capacity of the marine life on which so many industries depend.

It is vital that governments communicate that this law is not about ‘saving nature’ – which will find ways to flourish without us – but about saving ourselves. Mankind simply will not survive in the longer term without the multiple vital services – from food to climate regulation, from pollination to flood mitigation – that healthy landscapes provide us with.

The work must begin right now to communicate this effectively to all stakeholders, and to provide private landowners and fishers with adequate incentives to implement this law.

Huge and challenging changes are required by all of us, urban consumers included, if this law is to truly restore our landscapes. And the State must lead the way, by managing public lands a great deal better than it has done to date.