Landmark EU nature-restoration law is passed following months of deadlock

European Commission estimates up to 8.9 per cent of land in the Republic of Ireland may be affected by the new commitments

A file image showing a pair of Common Cranes and their chick flying over one of Bord na Móna’s rewetted peatlands last year. It was only the second known case of the Common Crane breeding in Ireland in more than 300 years. Photograph: INPHO/James Crombie

A landmark law committing EU countries to reverse biodiversity and nature loss has finally been passed after being held up for months due to the opposition of several countries.

The Nature Restoration Law, a key plank of the EU’s major “green deal” climate reforms, will bind countries to restore nature on a fifth of the EU’s land and seas by the end of the decade.

Previous research from the House of the Oireachtas stated the European Commission had estimated between 7.8 per cent and 8.9 per cent of land in the Republic of Ireland would be affected by the new commitments.

Some 20 EU countries voted in favour of the law at a meeting of environment ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, meaning it will now come into force in the coming weeks. Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Italy and Hungary had voted against the law, while Belgium abstained in the vote.


The legislation had previously been held up for months as a group of member states refused to sign off on the law at a council meeting of ministers, usually a formality in the EU policymaking process. This followed the European Parliament approving the law in February, after it had been watered down to address concerns raised by some EU countries.

The critical distinction between ‘nature restoration’ and ‘rewilding’Opens in new window ]

Ciaran Brennan: Ignore the scaremongering. The EU’s Nature Restoration Law can be a tool to empower farmersOpens in new window ]

The majority at council level was thrown into doubt when Hungary moved to join Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands in seeking to block the environmental reforms, after they were passed by the parliament.

Climate Minister Eamon Ryan has hailed the EU's passing of a nature-restoration law following months of deadlock as "historic." Video: EU Council

In recent weeks, diplomats from countries backing the law, such as Ireland, have been lobbying intensely to swing a number of countries in support of the reforms. It had been expected one or two member states might be convinced to change positions, but could not publicly do so until after the European elections earlier this month.

Speaking before the meeting on Monday, Austria’s environment minister, Leonore Gewessler, said her country would be changing positions and backing the law. The Green minister voted in favour of the reforms against the wishes of her conservative coalition partners in Austria, sparking a major political row domestically.

The meeting of ministers was seen as the last opportunity to pass the reforms before Hungary assumes the rotating presidency of the council of the EU, a traditional deal-making role that affords significant control over the Brussels agenda.

In a statement, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said Ireland had played a “central role” in getting the EU legislation over the line. “We did so by arguing in recent weeks for it to come back for decision at this council today, when everyone else thought it was dead,” he said.

“Restoring nature is in the interest of everyone. We will have no food security if our natural systems are destroyed. I believe the public overwhelmingly want to conserve rather than destroy the natural world which enriches us all,” he said.

The new law will commit Ireland to rewetting 7.5 per cent of its peatlands by 2030, which would mean raising the water table, but not necessarily require the land to be flooded. The Government is hopeful much of the early targets around rewetting can be met by focusing on public land, with voluntary schemes to be introduced to incentivise farmers to rewet private land.

A coalition of environmental organisations, including the European Environmental Bureau and the World Wildlife Fund, said the vote was a “massive victory” for nature in Europe.

Francie Gorman, president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), said the decision to introduce a binding law rather than a voluntary scheme was “totally wrong”. There was a “huge amount of uncertainty” about how individual EU countries would interpret the restoration law, he said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times