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EU law to restore nature sparks discussion that jobs ‘will go to China’

EU law to restore nature sparks discussion that jobs 'will go to China'

A proposed EU law aimed at restoring natural habitats threatens to undermine efforts to build wind farms and other renewable projects, say the critics, as the bloc scrambles efforts to cut emissions and restore biodiversity , to reconcile.

Several Member States have called for changes to the draft nature restoration law, which obliges EU governments to reverse environmental damage. They say they want to make sure the bill doesn’t hinder offshore wind farms and other renewable energy infrastructure, or hinder economic development.

The law calls on countries to take “remedial measures” for marine habitats in poor condition that would comprise 90 percent of them by 2050. It also requires them to fully “restore habitats” in other areas by 2050.

Measures to restore the seabed and land include re-wetting peat bogs in Ireland and the Baltics, 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.

However, the centre-right European People’s Party, the largest group in parliament, wants the law to be scrapped altogether.

Esther de Lange, environmental policy coordinator of the EPP, together with some members of the liberal Renew group, have proposed an amendment calling on the committee to withdraw the bill.

“It’s the first time I’ve done that in 16 years in parliament,” she told the Financial Times.

“The committee has gone way over the top. It increases the number of areas covered too much. It will be extremely difficult to build renewable energy projects and infrastructure. Climate and industrial policy must go hand in hand, otherwise the jobs will go to China.”

Some EU member states believe the rules should be adjusted to take into account the drive to decarbonise, which was accelerated by the need to phase out Russian fossil fuels in the wake of Ukraine’s invasion.

The Commission said the law was part of meeting its international biodiversity commitments and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. “Well-preserved biodiversity is the basis for sustainable growth,” she added.

“We look forward to discussing with the co-legislators how we can ensure that the Nature Restoration Act can interact constructively with our equally important renewables build-up strategy, including through faster permitting.”

The EU has raised its binding renewable energy target, launched last June, to 42.5 percent of supply by 2030, almost doubling the existing share.

Only last year did the EU agree on a strategy that would force member states to designate “go-to areas” for renewable energy projects with lighter planning controls.

Denmark has warned 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 do not overlap with recovery areas according to mandatory plans, which would make development impossible.

But Germany’s environment ministry said: “Smart planning will prevent conflict through the national recovery plan as laid down in the EU regulation on nature restoration.”

Others are concerned that they will have to pay compensation to farmers who cannot use the land. “If you drain a peat bog that has been drained and used, who pays the farmer for his loss?” asked an EU diplomat.

Some countries are also concerned about the “non-deterioration” principle, according to which restored habitats cannot be damaged in the future. Ingrid Thijssen, chairman of the Dutch business organization VNO-NCW, said this would overlook other public priorities, such as housing, infrastructure, food production or investments in sustainable energy.

“The one-size-fits-all approach is not suitable for such a fundamental policy,” she added. “It will bring the economy, housing and even the energy transition to a standstill.”

A commission official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the proposal should not conflict with efforts to decarbonise the economy. “Restoration is not protection. Economic activity can still be allowed. Member States have a lot of flexibility in implementation.

“The proposal is not intended to slow down the deployment of renewables.”

In western, central and eastern Europe, wetlands have shrunk by half since 1970, while 71 percent of fish populations and 60 percent of amphibian populations have declined in the past decade.

The aim is to provide at least one fifth of the EU’s land and marine areas with nature restoration measures by 2030, and to extend such measures to all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.

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