Nature saved from the abyss, the ocean protected but… we’ll have to be patient and combative

The die has been cast. In Strasbourg, MEPs have just saved the biodiversity pillar of the European Green Deal from the abyss by 336 votes to 300, at the cost of massive concessions, notably on the immediate protection of the ocean, fishers and the climate.   

While some will try to see this as a “victory” for environmentalism and the planet, like the president of the RENEW group Stéphane Séjourné [1], today’s vote rather speaks to an in extremis escape from a disastrous outcome. At a time when extreme climatic events are multiplying around the world, ranging from deadly rains to incendiary droughts, when water tables remain stubbornly low, and when the victims of heatwaves amount to tens of thousands of Europeans [2], an anti-ecological alliance between the Far Right, the Conservative Right and the Liberal Right has successfully torpedoed, over months, the Nature Restoration Law’s ambition, from which any immediately effective measures for the ocean were removed.

On the other hand, the amendment requiring Member States to set up real marine protected areas was adopted. This “compromise” amendment was a fallback to the bare minimum, and bounds Member States to produce action plans for the restoration and hence the protection of marine ecosystems. It is now up to Member States to improve the text’s ambition during the trilogue, and to adopt highly ambitious national action plans for the protection of terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

We will have to be patient and combative.

With one year to go before the European elections, this vote reveals the extreme fragility of the Old Continent’s climatic and democratic trajectory. Indeed, the tension was extremely high and the outcome extremely uncertain, despite the fact that the text’s aim was, no more and no less, to adopt objectives for the protection and restoration of European ecosystems in order to strengthen their resilience in the face of climate change and safeguard their capacity to store carbon.

The Nature Restoration Law, which has just been adopted after following a chaotic path for months through Parliament, proposes to restore 20% of European land and sea by 2030, and all degraded ecosystems by 2050. MEP Younous Omarjee’s two “ocean amendments“, supported by MEPs from various political groups, defending the creation of true marine protected areas and the exclusion of industrial fishing vessels over 25 meters from coastal waters, were not adopted. Raphaël Glucksmann’s mobilization within his Socialist Group (S&D) did not suffice to overturn his colleagues’ fear that the adoption of these amendements would lead to the overall rejection of the law.

Up until a few minutes before the vote, the prognosis was indeed that the law would be rejected. Although the MEPs wanted to secure the vote’s outcome at the cost of ambitious amendments, discussions with the political groups over the weeks showed the development of a real awareness of the oceanic, climatic and social urgency. Hopefully this will be reflected in ambitious national action plans and during the next European term of office.

The first amendment proposing the outright rejection of the entire law was rejected by 324 votes to 312, allowing the amendments tabled by MEPs to be put to the vote. Many important provisions, such as the ocean amendments, were nevertheless rejected. A more detailed analysis by NGOs will arrive soon.  

Despite the repeated warnings of 1000 scientists to adopt a law matching the climate crisis and the collapse of biodiversity, which are already hitting us hard, a dulled down version of the text was adopted. Nonetheless, it was adopted in extremis by MEPs the Left-Ecological groups with the support of some MEPs from the global Right.

A detailed analysis of the votes will soon be available on the European Parliament website, enabling us to see which MEPs on the Right had the ecological awareness to rise to the challenge.

A minimalist safety net around nature has therefore just been adopted by the Parliament, but everything remains to be done to protect and repair terrestrial and marine ecosystems.   

The battle for nature has only just begun.


[1] 24 hours before the vote, during the debate organized in Strasbourg ahead of the vote on the Nature Restoration Law, Mr. Stéphane Séjourné declared: “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to do the work. In the next 24 hours, we’ll be proposing a strategy to secure a majority, or at least to avoid the rejection of this text. Together with all the political leaders, with those who have worked on it, with the chairmen of the parliamentary committees, with our rapporteurs and shadow rapporteurs, I will be calling for a strategy to bring this text to a successful conclusion. I appeal to the responsibility of both the Left and the Right. In any case, until the end, we will be there to make this text a victory“.

[2] Le MondeNearly 62,000 people died from heat last summer in Europe,  10 July 2023 ; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists ‘Uncharted territory’: Warming oceans and disappearing sea ice alarm scientists, 8 June 2023The New York TimesDeadly New York Floods Are ‘Like Something Out of a Horror Movie’, 10 July 2023 ; The GuardianSpain: severe floods sweep cars away after torrential rain, 7 July 2023.

Share :