The EU Nature Restoration Law (NRL), represents a significant step towards restoring Europe’s ecosystems, habitats, and species. However, as highlighted by the Islands and Intermediterranean Commissions of the CPMR, the law’s initial proposal lacks clarity regarding the roles of regions, prompting a thoughtful reflection on its potential impacts, especially on peripheral and maritime regions, home to a rich natural and cultural heritage.
This groundbreaking legislation was introduced by the European Commission on 22 June 2022, adopted by the European Parliament on 12 July 2023, and is being finalised, recently out of a challenging trialogue phase, before final votes in the European Parliament ENVI committee and Plenary session in December 2023. The Nature Restoration Law represents the first-ever piece of legislation, designed to address environmental challenges on a continental scale. This new legislation foresees a change of approach by setting legally binding targets for ecosystem restoration. The bindingness intends notably to overcome the shortcomings encountered by the previous EU environmental laws, which lacked the expected impacts due to the voluntary nature of their targets and commitments.
In addition to these binding targets, the NRL establishes a framework for implementation, directing member states to develop “National Restoration Plans” within two years of the law’s adoption. However, a notable gap arises in the initial legislative proposal, lacking explicit guidance on the roles expected of different regions. Recognizing this aspect, the Islands and Intermediterranean Commissions of the CPMR initiated a thoughtful process, starting with an international seminar in Palma on 23 February 2023. This gathering brought together stakeholders from Islands and Mediterranean regions, fostering discussions on the potential impacts of the NRL on these distinctive territories. Given the significance of these areas, especially islands, the debate underscored the necessity for special attention to ensure a comprehensive and equitable approach to the NRL. Building on the key observations and outcomes of the seminar, and on continuous feedback from member regions, the two Geographical Commissions of the CPMR worked in the past months on a related Policy Position, aiming to convey some crucial messages to the EU co-legislators.
Multilevel stakeholder’s engagement at the earliest designing stage of the plans
The role that sub-national governments already play in supporting and developing ecosystem restoration programmes should be emphasised. Indeed, it should be taken into account that regions are already heavily involved in identifying vulnerable areas, supporting restoration, protection and monitoring activities, as well as ensuring policy coherence and creating synergies between regional and local plans and strategies. It should also be noted that these practices are tailored to address the specific needs and conditions of local ecosystems and communities.
Reconsideration of schedules in the Regulation, giving explicit attention to the unique characteristics of islands and outermost regions.
It is well known that the Mediterranean Sea, benefitting from unique biodiversity and ecosystems, is one of the hotspots most impacted by the cumulative impacts of coastal and maritime activities as well as climate change worldwide. Likewise, insular territories and outermost regions are confronted with a range of climate and biodiversity risks specific to them and must be the subject of special considerations when implementing actions for climate adaptation or nature restoration. The challenges linked to insularity make it often also more difficult to achieve the EU’s climate and biodiversity objectives, especially when the given implementation deadlines are too short or even relatively unrealistic. Therefore, a key observation raised in the joint Policy Position is that, it would be important for the schedules set out by the Regulation to be reconsidered, while giving more attention to the specific characteristics of islands and outermost regions by explicitly mentioning the element of insularity in its text.
Impacts assessments and compensatory measures on sectors socio-economically impacted like fisheries, agriculture, tourism, and transport
The Islands and Intermediterranean Commissions regions stressed the importance of a proper assessment of measures that are necessary to enable a fair and equitable transition in key sectors, such as those related to food production, with considerable implications for food security. Moreover, if on the one hand this piece of legislation represents an outstanding opportunity for the development of eco-tourism, it might, on the other hand, pose some questions of socio-economic sustainability for local communities heavily relying on tourism, as it is often the case for EU islands and Mediterranean coastal areas. Finally, another issue raised by both Islands and Intermediterranean Commissions member regions is related to specific compensatory instruments that could be designed to cover potential economic losses suffered by the concerned stakeholders, as well as the administrative support to be offered to regions to ensure an effective implementation of the NRL.
The NRL should not remain locked into a short-term vision, but instead encompass region perspectives in achieving the EU’s climate targets and climate neutrality
The NRL should welcome this call of regions, which are key actors, notably in achieving the EU’s 2030 climate targets and climate neutrality by 2050. Since islands will have to lift the weight of great challenges related to their unique geographical reality, a fit-for-all policy would not be adequate. Having that in mind, seeking solutions at the regional level becomes essential, as it is incurred by the specific implementation of the Natura 2000 network, multiple Directives (WFD, MSFD, MSP). The subsidiarity principle and particularly Article 174 of the TFEU should be the basis for all actions and plans to be implemented in this field.
In the current context, the NRL represents a major step towards addressing the significant environmental and territorial challenges the EU is already facing. Nonetheless, as stated in the joint Policy Position of Islands and Intermediterranean Commissions, for this Regulation to be effectively implemented and its benefits enhanced, it should ensure the necessary multi-level and multi-stakeholders approach and co-ownership, fully recognizing the interdependence of sectors and socio-economic and environmental ecosystems while seeking coordination and collaboration to achieve meaningful and sustainable results for the future.
For additional information, please consult the CPMR Islands Commission’s website and our Policy Position paper on NRL.