Infrastructure and Ecology Network Europe (IENE) congratulates the initiative of the European Commission Proposal for a Regulation on Nature Restoration.
IENE is a network of experts working with various aspects of transportation, infrastructure, and ecology. The network was initiated in 1996 to provide an independent, international, and interdisciplinary arena for the exchange and development of expert knowledge with the aim to promote a safe and ecologically sustainable pan-European transport infrastructure.
IENE arranges international conferences, workshops, training seminars, and symposia, initiates collaboration projects, and helps answer questions requiring joint international expertise.
As is highlighted in the context of the proposal for a Regulation on Nature Restoration1:
- Despite EU and international efforts, biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystems continue at an alarming rate, harming people, the economy and the climate.
- More decisive action is therefore needed to achieve the EU climate and biodiversity objectives for 2030 and for 2050, and to ensure the resilience of food systems.
- The Green Deal also emphasised that all EU actions and policies should pull together to help the EU achieve a successful and just transition towards a sustainable future.
- The EU has so far failed to halt the loss of biodiversity. The outlook for biodiversity and ecosystems is bleak and shows that the current approach is not working.
Restoring ecosystems is also high on the international agenda2.
- To achieve this objective, the proposal sets multiple binding restoration targets and obligations across a broad range of ecosystems. The proposal is further supported by an implementation framework to translate the objectives into action, by preparing and carrying out national restoration plans.
- EU-wide rules and obligations are necessary to significantly restore biodiversity and ecosystems.
- The lack of progress in the biodiversity strategy up to 2020 shows that voluntary commitments by the Member States are not enough to achieve the EU’s objectives for restoring ecosystems.
- EU action is also needed to complement existing legal requirements and help the EU achieve its objectives under other pieces of EU environmental and climate legislation.
- In summary, the proposal sets an overarching goal and ecosystem-specific targets and obligations that are in keeping with the scope of the objectives. To ensure the EU reaches these objectives, the proposal lays down implementing measures, assessments and reviews.
- A legislative rather than a non-legislative approach is needed to ensure the long-term objective.
- The objectives of this proposal are best pursued through a regulation to ensure the laws are directly applicable by Member States by putting in place national restoration plans with ecosystem-specific targets and obligations.
Among the commitments made by states at COP 15 in Montreal, held in December 2022 the first goal of the CBD Global Biodiversity Framework (GOAL A) states that the integrity, connectivity and resilience of all ecosystems are maintained, enhanced or restored by substantially increasing the area of natural ecosystems by 2050. As ecosystem integrity is essential to halting biodiversity loss.
Considering the above-stated conditions, the regulation’s goals to restore nature, primarily land use impacts, are ambitious. Still, infrastructure development and other concrete development sectors are not specifically mentioned as the main causes of habitat and landscape degradation/deterioration.
Failing to halt biodiversity loss, special attention has to be paid to avoiding further deterioration of biodiversity conservation status at the national and international levels, stressing the need to use lessons learned from past experience. These experiences are related to the difficulty in assessing the consequences of transport systems on ecological corridors, the integrity and the coherence of the Natura 2000 network as the largest network of protected areas in the world.
As highlighted in the Declaration3 of the last IENE International Conference in Cluj-Napoca, Romania in September 2022, it is a fact that Europe is included in the most fragmented landscapes and ecosystems in the world. This is due to intensive and extended infrastructure development, but also settlement and industrial development and intensification of agricultural, forestry and other land use, especially in the west. In the coming years, the intensification of energy production will bring new challenges in terms of land use and permeability for the fauna and flora.
The term and the aim of Defragmentation have to be included in the Regulation on Nature Restoration, while addressing at the same time the urgency to Avoid Fragmentation and adopt proactive policies to meet future needs for habitat connectivity restoration.
Having in mind all the above critical concerns, IENE is proposing the following amendments (in bold and in italics) to concrete articles of the Regulation on Nature Restoration:
CHAPTER II: RESTORATION TARGETS AND OBLIGATIONS
Restoration of terrestrial, coastal and freshwater ecosystems
1. Member States shall put in place the restoration measures that are necessary to improve good condition areas of habitat types listed in Annex I which are not in good condition as well as special defragmentation measures on improving the ecological integrity and coherence of the Natura 2000 network as well as of other important natural habitats not directly connected to Natura 2000 areas. Such measures shall be in place on at least 30 % of the area of each group of habitat types listed in Annex I that is not in good condition, as quantified in the national restoration plan referred to in Article 12, by 2030, on at least 60 % by 2040, and on at least 90 % by 2050.
3. Member States shall put in place the restoration measures for the terrestrial, coastal and freshwater habitats of the species listed in Annexes II, IV and V to Directive 92/43/EEC and of the terrestrial, coastal and freshwater habitats of wild birds covered by Directive 2009/147/EC that are necessary to improve the quality and quantity of those habitats, including by re-establishing them, and to enhance connectivity and the functionality of the ecological terrestrial, water and avian corridors until sufficient quality and quantity of those habitats are achieved.
4. The determination of the most critical and suitable areas for restoration measures in accordance with paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of this Article shall be based on the best available knowledge and the latest scientific evidence of the condition of the habitat types listed in Annex I, measured by the structure and functions which are necessary for their long-term maintenance including their typical species, as referred to in Article 1(e) of Directive 92/43/EEC, and of the quality and quantity of the habitats of the species referred to in paragraph 3 of this Article. Areas where the habitat types listed in Annex I are in unknown condition shall be considered as not being in good condition.
5. (Version A)
The restoration measures referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2 shall consider the need to improve connectivity in critical areas where ecological corridors are threatened and affected by the barrier effect of existing linear transport infrastructure or other barriers causing land use changes and implement concrete defragmentation approaches. Such measures shall be in place between the habitat types listed in Annex I and take into account the ecological requirements of the species referred to in paragraph 3 that occur in those habitat types.
5. (Version B)
The restoration measures referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2 shall consider the need for improved connectivity in critical areas where ecological corridors are threatened by barriers’ effect between the habitat types listed in Annex I and take into account the ecological requirements of the species referred to in paragraph 3 that occur in those habitat types. The functionality of ecological corridors between Natura 2000 areas or other important habitats has to be ensured by, (a) legal identification and protection of ecological corridors, (b) official definition of conflict points and the concrete type of barriers due to existing or future linear transport infrastructure and other barrier causing land use changes by other sectors as agriculture, water management, energy, tourism, hunting, etc., in an overall cross-sectoral and spatial approach, (c) provision of legal instruments for efficient administrative processes, (d) financing of the appropriate structural measures and objectives and (e) established special technical tools, guidelines and standards to be followed.
8. Outside Natura 2000 sites, special focus has to be given on improving the ecological integrity and coherence of the Natura 2000 network but also other important habitats areas following the article 10 of Habitat Directive and the Decision of CBD/COP/DEC/14/34 in 2018 on mainstreaming biodiversity in energy and mining, infrastructure, manufacturing and processing sectors. The non-fulfilment of the obligations set out in paragraphs 6 and 7 is justified if it is caused by:
(a) force majeure;
(b) unavoidable habitat transformations which are directly caused by climate change; or
(c) a project of overriding public interest for which no less damaging alternative solutions are available, to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
On behalf of the IENE Governance Board,
Elke Hahn, IENE Governance Board Chair