Unpacking the EU Nature Restoration Law
The draft of the Nature Restoration Law (NRL) unveiled by the EU Commission in 2022 and narrowly approved by the EU Parliament in July 2023, has been met with both enthusiasm and controversy. It sets lofty objectives for the Member States to restore ecosystems, supporting the unionwide and long-term sustainable recovery of biodiversity and nature's resilience. To achieve this, the NRL aims to establish binding restoration targets and obligations for various ecosystems. By 2030, these measures should cover at least 20 % of the Union's land and sea areas and extend to all ecosystems "requiring restoration" by 2050. To meet these goals, Member States must create and implement "restoration plans".
Stakeholders argue that the NRL leaves little room for other important objectives, such as the energy transition or food security. They are requesting better coordination of objectives and a mandatory balancing of interests at both the planning and individual levels.
Despite the lack of binding provisions and its focus on mere objectives, the NRL is planned as a regulation that would be directly applicable within Member States. The better alternative arguably would have been a directive.
The NRL is also plagued by unclear terminology. The term "restoration" is defined, but "restoration measures" are not. Instead, there is a non-exhaustive list of examples. It thus remains unclear which measures qualify as "restoration measures" and how they are assessed.
Lastly, Member States must ensure that their restoration plans are subject to public and judicial review with the possibility to contest. The choice of legal framework could, however, clash with the intended access to public review, as the possibilities for challenging laws, ordinances and permits vary between Member States and are often restricted.
Having been only narrowly accepted by the EU Parliament and facing scepticism from important interest groups, the negotiations on the NRL between the EU Parliament and the Council are expected to be challenging. Addressing the regulatory, terminological and governance challenges will be crucial for effective implementation across Member States.