EU Sections Facing Nearly a Billion Decline and Return to 1950s Levels

EU Sections Facing Nearly a Billion Decline and Return to 1950s Levels

The EU restoration regulation is on the verge of being enacted, awaiting final approval. The anticipated costs of the regulation are lower than previously feared. This regulation has been dormant since 1952.

The controversial EU restoration regulation, which recently passed the European Parliament by a narrow margin, now requires the approval of the EU member states to be enforced. This regulation aims to prevent further loss of nature.

The regulation sparked controversy in Finland due to an alarming cost estimate of one billion euros per year and opposition from the forest industry and agriculture sector.

However, changes have been made to the original requirements, increasing flexibility and voluntary participation.

A significant change in the revised proposal is that until 2030, restoration efforts will be primarily focused on Natura areas, mainly owned by the state, and not on private lands.

Post 2030, pressure is expected to increase for restoration activities to be carried out on lands other than state-owned, according to Natural Resources Center professor Anne Tolvanen.

Notably for Finland’s agriculture sector, peat field removal will be voluntary and not mandatory. An ’emergency brake’ will also be implemented, allowing restoration activities to be omitted if national food security necessitates it.

Previously, cities were mandated to not only maintain but increase green areas. However, the final version states that restoration measures are not required if a city already has 45% green areas and more than 10% forest area. This comes as a relief for heavily forested cities in Finland.

However, Tolvanen points out that this also potentially allows for deforestation up to these threshold values.

The initially proposed reference year of 1952 for restoration targets has been discarded. There is now no single reference year, instead, a reference point is sought from the historical distribution of habitat types, taking into account that deforestation occurred earlier in Central Europe than in Finland.

Tolvanen believes that the restoration regulation can specifically improve the condition of marshes and waterways in Finland. However, he is sceptical about achieving the goal of improving the state of nature by 2030.

As Tolvanen puts it, “The deterioration of nature is a big and slow change. Even a positive translation takes time.”

Restoration Regulation

The restoration regulation is a part of the EU’s biodiversity strategy, aiming to prevent the loss of nature and promote a positive biodiversity development by 2030.

EU member states are required to restore at least 30% of degraded habitats by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 90% by 2050. The types of nature include various forests and swamps.

Upon regulation approval, Finland will have two years to develop a national plan detailing the necessary restoration measures within the country.

Decrease in Billion-Dollar Expenses

Initially, the EU Commission estimated that the restoration would cost Finland 930 million euros per year. Now, according to Luke’s calculations, the restoration of natural habitats could cost between 480–700 million euros per year.

Tolvanen estimates that the current bill closely aligns with Luke’s range, assuming the regulation is passed as is. This estimate includes both current and new restoration measures.

Tolvanen explains that the wide price range results from the uncertainty of the exact amount of restoration needed in Finland, as is the case in other EU countries.

In return for these high costs, the commission promised Finland benefits exceeding 10 billion euros. However, Tolvanen noted that these figures were mostly derived from studies conducted outside the EU and are, therefore, not directly applicable to Finland.

In Tolvanen’s view, these assumptions were quite unrealistic.

Flexibility or Not?

The environmental organization WWF argues that the regulation has loopholes and offers too much flexibility regarding restoration. In contrast, Metsäteollisuus ry and MTK hope that Finland will utilize the flexibility allowed by the regulation nationally.

Metsäteollisuus ry cautions that the restoration may impact the availability of domestic wood, as restoration will eventually need to be carried out outside Natura areas as well.

From the perspective of industrial wood availability, the period after 2030 is not far, says Maija Rantamäki, head of international and EU forest affairs at Metsäteollisuus ry.

MTK lawyer Anna-Rosa Asikainen emphasizes that restoration on private lands must remain voluntary.

Before Christmas, Finland and other EU member states gave preliminary approval to the restoration regulation, but it still awaits approval from the member states’ environment ministers in April.

The large-scale farmer demonstrations in Central Europe at the beginning of the year create some uncertainty about the positions of the member countries. Another long-standing legal project, the corporate responsibility directive, is already on the verge of collapsing due to last-minute opposition from the member states.

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