17 July 2023
Ocean Rescue needed for the Nature Restoration Law
17 July 2023
On Wednesday 12 July, by 336 votes to 300, the European Parliament finally adopted a very weakened Nature Restoration Law (NRL) at the plenary session in Strasbourg. The restoration targets (20% of land and sea by 2030 and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050) represent an undeniable political victory for the environmental Left over the Right, which had vowed to bring down the law.
But at what price?
At the price of massive yet unecessary concessions made by the Right to industrial lobbies…
And at the price of the ocean, despite it being in urgent need of rescue.
The Parliament rejected the two immediately effective measures tabled by MEP Younous Omarjee to protect and restore the ocean (the creation of truly protected marine areas and the exclusion of fishing vessels over 25 meters long from coastal waters), along with most of the amendments required to make this legislation the real cornerstone of safeguarding our European ecosystems were sacrificed.
The situation is quite insane: the European Parliament has a weaker position than that of the Council, which represents the EU Member States, and which traditionally works to sabotage legislations, whereas the Parliament generally embodies ambition. This means that the European Parliament, which fought hard to obtain the status of co-legislator on-par with the Council in the Lisbon Treaty, will appear to be rather useless in the “trilogue” negotiations which bring the European Commission, Parliament, and Council together to agree on a final version of EU lagislations.
This is the world turned upside down! But this is the world that awaits us in a Europe that is tilting further and further to the Right and the Far-Right.
One final battle remains.
Against all odds, an important amendment for the ocean has slipped through the net. It is nowhere near as good as Mr. Omarjee’s amendment 77 for MPAs, which would have put a halt to the European hypocrisy with regards to its fake “Marine Protected Areas”, but it’s better than nothing at all.
That is amendment 15.
In very unnecessarily complex language, amendment 15 basically says that EU Member States have a binding obligation to produce national restoration plans for the ocean, and that, should they fail to do so, the European Commission will enact their absence of compliance and take emergency measures to restore and protect the ocean.
- Sign the petition to ask President Emmanuel Macron to create truly protected marine areas
- Contact Emmanuel Macron on social media, or via the Élysée form with irreproachable courtesy, it goes without saying. The world is brutal enough as it is! Thank you very much.
The restoration of marine ecosystems sacrificed
Article 5 of the Nature Restoration Law was devoted to the restoration of marine ecosystems. This article, of vital importance for the oceans, has seen its ambition considerably reduced.
- By adopting amendment 18 tabled by the political group Renew about the Article 5 of the proposal, the Parliament has aligned itself with the weak position of the Council. The new version of Article 5.1 excludes soft sediments (Group 7 of Annex II) from the objective of restoring 30% of degraded ecosystems by 2030, even though these play a major role in carbon storage.
- By adopting amendment 29 tabled by the ECR Group, MEPs deleted article 5.2, which aimed to increase the surface area subject to restoration measures. This is a major step backwards and does not guarantee that the areas restored will be sufficient to create healthy and resilient ecosystems in the long term.
- Amendment 125/rev1, tabled by a group of Right-wing EPP members, significantly weakened the principle of non-deterioration in areas restored or in the process of being restored. Whereas the European Commission specified that “Member States shall ensure that areas in which good condition has been reached and in which the sufficient quality of the habitats of the species has been reached do not deteriorate”, the MEPs adopted an amendment that destroys all ambition through a succession of euphemisms and games of scale: as things stand, the EU Parliament states that “Member States shall endeavour to put in place, where possible, necessary measures with the aim to prevent that areas in which good condition has been reached, and in which the sufficient quality of the habitats of the species has been reached, do not significantly deteriorate on a national level”.
- Amendments 32, 104 and 126/rev1 tabled by the ECR group and adopted in plenary deleted article 5.7 in its entirety, even though it provided that all ecosystems, including those not benefiting from restoration measures, should not be further degraded. This deletion of the principle of non-deterioration is a major step backwards in relation to the European Commission’s proposal and demonstrates the refusal of MEPs to acknowledge the need to put an end to the destruction of European ecosystems.
- The adoption of amendment 7 tabled by the Renew group further weakens the Commission’s proposal by creating new derogations to the principle of non-deterioration of protected or restored areas when “exceptional circumstances relating to the implementation or continuation of activities of public interest” are invoked.
- Amendments 77 and 78, tabled by French MEP Younous Omarjee on behalf of The Left group, and supported by MPs from various political groups, were rejected. These two amendments proposed, respectively, a ban on high-impact fishing methods in marine protected areas, and the exclusion from the coastal waters of vessels over 25 meters long. In the absence of a “roll call vote” (or “RCV”, i.e. a public ballot procedure allowing details of votes to be obtained after the event), it was impossible to identify the MEPs who voted against these two amendments, which proposed immediately effective measures.
Amendment 15 salvaged from the abyss
Amendment 15, supported by a broad coalition of associations dedicated to marine protection, has resisted this destruction orchestrated by the Right. A new article is dedicated to the “Implementation of measures to restore marine ecosystems“, and after 30 years of failure to set up truly protected marine areas in Europe, it could put an end to the diplomatic blockages that States invoke to avoid banning destructive fishing techniques, including bottom trawling, from so-called “protected” marine areas.
Indeed, the Common Fisheries Policy requires European states to submit “joint recommendations” with other Member States having a “direct management interest in the fishery to be affected by such measures” (article 11 of the Common Fisheries Policy). To date, this provision has only been implemented in a handful of cases, even though it is at the heart of the European system for protecting marine ecosystems, with Member States hiding behind the alleged complexity of this diplomatic procedure to avoid establishing bans on industrial fishing in supposedly “protected” marine areas.
Thanks to this new article adopted in the Nature Restoration Law, States that include measures for the protection and restoration of marine ecosystems in their “national restoration plans” will be obliged to submit their “joint recommendations” within 12 months, failing which the European Commission will be able to take emergency measures for the effective protection and restoration of the ecosystems concerned.
At present, 86% of the European Union’s “protected” marine areas are subject to bottom trawling. Amendment 15 adopted by the European Parliament could put an end to the sham of “marine protected areas” within a few years, by creating a binding obligation on EU Member States to produce effective national restoration plans for the ocean and, ideally, by forcing them to finally ban destructive fishing techniques in so-called “protected” or “restored” marine areas.
A final trilogue to decide on the future of “protected” and “restored” marine areas
On Wednesday 19 July, the three European institutions (European Commission, Council, and Parliament) will meet in Brussels for a final round of negotiations.
The Council adopted a watered-down version of the Nature Restoration Law on 20 June 2023. With the European Parliament arriving at the negotiating table with an even weaker version, this final stage of the legislative process could be concluded quickly, or even in a single, final meeting.
Against this backdrop, amendment 15 represents a desperately needed lifeline to ensure that this law, which represented a historic opportunity, does not end up sacrificing nature on the altar of clientelist considerations for the benefit of industrial lobbies.
The European Union is the world’s leading maritime power.
France accounts for 45% of Europe’s maritime space.
If the European Parliament’s rapporteur César Luena and the President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron decide to save the ocean and implement a genuine European marine protection policy, amendment 15 gives them the opportunity to do so. The future of the protection and restoration of Europe’s marine ecosystems will depend on the decision taken by César Luena and Emmanuel Macron at the trilogue on Wednesday 19 July 2023.
TO GO FURTHER
A degraded natural environment in urgent need of repair
More than 80% of European habitats are in poor condition, and only 23% of species monitored under EU directives on nature protection are in good health. The Nature Restoration Law emerges in this terrifying context of mass extinction of living species where, according to the latest IPBES report, more than a million species are threatened with extinction in the near future. Protecting and restoring ecosystems, both on land and at sea, is therefore a matter of urgency.
The terrestrial emergency :
- In Europe, all natural habitats (groundwater, soil, lakes and rivers, sediments) are contaminated by “forever chemicals” (PFAS, used since the 1940s), which include thousands of chemical substances with dramatic health consequences (cancers, reduced fertility, cardiovascular problems) and the characteristic of not degrading.
- Insect populations have fallen by 70-80% in Europe’s mixed agro-industrial landscapes, to general indifference, despite their essential ‘keystones’ role to ensure the health of ecosystems. Insects first appeared 400 million years ago and now account for 80% of all animal species.
- Europe loses an average of 20 million birds per year. In agricultural areas, the bird population has fallen by some 60% since 1980 due to the intensification of farming practices (monoculture, loss of hedgerows, use of pesticides and fertilisers, collapse of insect populations).
- Although European forest cover has increased in recent years, the state of forest health is poor, with very low resilience and diversity in the EU’s forests. Forest Europe estimates, for example, that 33% of Europe’s forests contain only one species of tree (mainly conifers).
- Peatlands, very wet areas where organic matter decomposes very slowly and accumulates for thousands of years, storing large quantities of carbon – almost twice as much as the world’s forests – are in danger. Peatlands cover almost 3% of the Earth’s surface, filtering water and minimising the risk of drought and flooding… but are burnt or drained for agriculture or to be used as fuel. When peatlands are exploited, they release carbon, accounting for 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
- Europe’s rivers, meanwhile, are obstructed by more than a million artificial barriers (dams, fords, locks, etc.) that impede the flow of water and cause vast losses in biodiversity. Over the centuries, Europe has fragmented its rivers into regular stretches of stagnant water. Only a third of the EU’s rivers are considered to be in good ecological condition.
The marine emergency:
- According to a study published by the European Environment Agency in 2019, “biodiversity loss in Europe’s seas has not been halted”, with the situation deemed “problematic” in 84% of assessed areas, while 65% of the supposedly “protected” seabed remains in “unfavourable” condition.
- While stocks of various fish species subject to quotas have stabilised, they remain at historically low levels. European waters, long considered inexhaustible, are now drained: in the North Atlantic, 90% of marine predator species have disappeared since 1900. In the North Sea, the current biomass of fish weighing between 4 and 16 kilograms has fallen by 4% compared with the pre-industrial period. The collapse reaches 99.2% for fish weighing between 16 and 66 kilograms. A scientific study estimates that at constant fishing effort, catches by trawlers operating in British waters have fallen by 94% since 1890, testifying to the depletion of the British seabed.
- According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity (IPBES), “in marine systems, fishing has had the most impact on biodiversity (target species, non-target species and habitats) in the past 50 years alongside other significant drivers”. Industrial fishing, through destructive and unselective fishing techniques, is primarily responsible for the collapse of marine biodiversity in Europe. Bottom trawlers alone are responsible for 93% of the discards from the European fishing fleet, consume three times more diesel than other fleets, destroy the physical integrity of marine habitats, and dislodge carbon stored in marine sediments.
However, after months of negotiations and a final vote in the European Parliament, the position adopted by the European Parliament represents real political carnage.