After a bitter battle, European lawmakers passed a nature reform bill

European lawmakers, after an unexpectedly bitter political battle, approved a bill on Wednesday requiring EU countries to restore 20 percent of all degraded natural areas within their land and sea borders.

The measure, a key component of the Green Deal environmental bloc’s initiative, passed with 336 votes in favor, 300 against, and 13 abstentions. It now goes to a committee of representatives from the EU executive, parliament and national governments.

Negotiations for the final version could take months. But Wednesday’s vote in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, means the bloc is now required in principle to pass the measure into law.

The bill approved by Parliament was a modified version of the original proposal. Lawmakers have introduced more than 2,300 amendments, an unusual number, and have accused each other of spreading misinformation. The law initially failed to pass three committee votes after marathon late-night hearings.

A day before the final vote, dozens of environmental activists, including Greta Thunberg, confronted irate farmers on tractors from across Europe in sweltering heat outside parliament in Strasbourg.

Farmers are a key constituency in parliament’s largest political group, the centre-right European People’s Party, which has led opposition to the bill. Along with smaller far-right groupings, they said the proposed policy would threaten food production, cause a spike in inflation and harm farmers, who have already been hurt by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The party’s leader, Manfred Weber, on Tuesday reiterated his call for the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, which introduced the measure, to withdraw the bill and craft a new proposal. The majority of MPs voted against his request.

Environmentalists, community groups, and many companies have rejected claims that the policy will impair food production. More than 6,000 scientists from several European universities, including Oxford, Athens and Zurich, said in an open letter last month that the claims “not only lack scientific evidence, but also contradict it”.

They argued that in the long term, climate change and the degradation of nature were the greatest threat, and that the proposed policy would ensure sustainable food production.

The final result on Wednesday was met with a standing ovation from supporters, and many lawmakers hugged and cheered.

“It’s a massive social victory,” said Cesar Luena, a Spanish MP who was one of the bill’s main proponents. “It’s good for everyone. Because if you have healthy ecosystems, the economies that depend on those ecosystems will be healthy themselves.”

Not only can restoring degraded lands provide relief from climate change, but it is also essential to addressing the global biodiversity crisis that threatens to drive an estimated one million plant and animal species to extinction. In December, the world’s nations agreed to 23 targets to tackle biodiversity loss, with Europe pushing for ambitious action during the negotiations. One of the goals is that countries have committed to restoring at least 30 percent of the planet’s degraded land, freshwater and marine areas by 2030.

The new Nature Restoration Bill, though reduced to 20 per cent, is one of the first examples of governments beginning to put their commitments into policy.

In recent years, Europe has been grappling with the consequences of climate change, with rising temperatures, droughts and floods ravaging the continent and killing thousands. Heat waves, in particular, are increasing in frequency and intensity at a faster rate than almost any other part of the planet, including the western United States.

More than 61,000 people died last year in Europe as a result of the extreme heat, he said A study published this week Writing in the journal Nature Medicine, the researchers say the coming months could be even worse. This year, some 30,000 people have been displaced in northern Italy by the most severe floods in more than a century.

Defenders of the bill contend that in the long term, Europe has no other choice but to restore biodiversity if it is to sustain food production and achieve a binding target of net greenhouse gas emissions across the bloc by 2050.

The European Commission described the Nature Restoration Bill as essential to Europe’s future. The executive body said saving the continent’s degraded natural spaces, 81 percent of which are described as “in poor condition”, is vital to preventing ecosystem collapse.

“We need nature to tackle the climate crisis, absorb carbon, cool cities and towns, retain water on dry lands and stave off flood damage,” Frans Timmermans, the federation’s head of environmental policy, said last month. “We need to help nature restore itself if we are to achieve our goals that we have already agreed upon.”