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Successfully navigating the Nature Restoration Planning process

Author: Gabrielle Aubert

The Nature Restoration Law has been adopted by the European Parliament. There is one step left in the process as the Council of the EU now needs to formally approve the final text, before the law can enter into force. Once that has happened, the focus will shift to Member States to draft their National Restoration Plans, which are essential to implementing the EU regulation as their preparation and implementation will largely determine whether they will reach the targets and objectives of the law.  

The Plans will have to be adopted two years after the law’s entry into force, meaning they will likely need to be ready by mid-2026. The European Commission will then review all plans and submit comments to Member States, which they must consider in their revised final Plans. 

These Plans must lay out the restoration measures Member States will implement to achieve the targets for restoring habitats, species, and ecosystems. They must provide detailed information on the measures planned up to 2032, with a strategic overview of actions to 2050.  

It is essential that Member States engage in nature restoration planning as soon as possible to avoid any delays in implementing the law and to ensure that the plans are fit-for-purpose. Member States will need to: 

  • quantify the areas that need to be restored to reach the restoration targets, taking into account their current condition, their historical distribution and the projected changes to environmental conditions due to climate change – this includes identifying and mapping the agricultural and forest areas in need of restoration 
  • plan the areas most suitable for the re-establishment of habitat types 
  • plan the connectivity needed between habitats for species populations to thrive and adapt to climate change 
  • identify synergies with climate change mitigation, climate change adaptation, land degradation neutrality, disaster prevention, agriculture, and forestry policy and consider their renewable energy acceleration and infrastructure areas 
  • organise ways in which the public is given early and effective opportunities to participate in the planning. 

These considerations will be critical to the restoration planning process and the Plan’s quality: 

  • Identifying and addressing knowledge gaps: Member States need to take stock of their knowledge gaps and identify ways in which to address them. Cooperation with their own national experts, civil society organisations, and other Member States is key. Indeed, experts often have much more information on where habitats and species are and what condition they are in, whilst civil society (including land managers) is key to understanding where the opportunities lie.  
  • Focusing on policy coherence: restoring nature involves a holistic approach and will therefore involve a broad range of government departments (related to transport, energy, agriculture, forestry, water management, finance, etc.). As cross-government planning, decision-making and cooperation between relevant departments is often overlooked when implementing environmental legislation, it is crucial to involve these departments from the start. The Plan must be coherent with climate adaptation planning, flood mapping and mitigation, river basin management plans and programmes of measures, renewable energy areas and grids, and many other policies. It needs to be seen as being equal in the planning hierarchy to these other processes and not an afterthought.  
  • Strengthening participatory processes: it is critical to implement processes which allow for the efficient participation of civil society and other relevant stakeholders from the start, as there are few requirements on this in the current text. Environmental NGOs and other civil society actors must be involved to share their knowledge and expertise on nature restoration measures and local contexts and to provide guidance and recommendations on how to implement the targets.  
  • Giving land and water managers the capacity and incentives to engage in the process: while the legal requirements do not fall on them directly, land and water managers will be the ones implementing the restoration measures on the ground. Farmers, foresters, fishers, and land managers need to be able to do it profitably and be actively engaged in the planning. Member States must therefore improve or create systems which empower and give them capacity to implement such measures. These include financial incentives, such as payments for ecosystem services, guidance and training. 
  • Making funding available: the Plan will have to identify funding sources and instruments that will finance the restoration measures. Funding has been a critical issue in the negotiations, as the European Commission was criticised for proposing a law that would require extraordinary financial efforts from Member States. It has argued that there is enough funding available for funding nature restoration in the current Multi-Financial Framework. While the new text asks the European Commission to write a report on the overview of available financial resources and proposal for measures to address the gaps identified a year after the law’s entry into force, Member States will have to rely on existing funding instruments at the EU, national and regional levels. EU funding instruments are sometimes little known by the relevant agencies and there is scope to make better use of existing funds. The Nature Restoration Law does not oblige Member States to re-assign funding under the Common Agricultural Policy or the Common Fisheries Policy to restoration measures, but this does not mean that it cannot be done. Member States can investigate ways to mobilise blended and private funding to steer private investment towards restoration.  
  • Monitoring and reporting: depending on the indicator, Member States need to start monitoring from when they implement the restoration measures or from a certain date after the entry into force of the final text and do it at regular intervals. This should follow standardised data collection methods and be reported through the European Environment Agency’s system. Up to date monitoring results must be published regularly and are an important way for civil society to watch over the success of the law.  

The upcoming Think2030 conference to be held on 27 March 2024 in Brussels will explore how Member States and relevant stakeholders can make adaptation and resilience a priority in National Restoration Plans. We look forward to seeing you at this event.

To register:   

Photo by Benoit Gauzere on Unsplash.

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