The European Union’s executive arm on Wednesday unveiled groundbreaking environmental proposals – a draft law that will halve the EU’s use of pesticides by 2030 – and is working to restore its land, seas and rivers.
The draft legislation aims to restore 20% of Europe’s degraded land and waterways within the next eight years – a measure that European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans says is essential for the region’s future.
“We are proposing a law that requires all member states to restore nature,” he said. “We need to restore 80% of our nature that is in a bad state and bring back the nature that our citizens want and need, to our cities, towns, forests, agricultural land, sea lakes and rivers.”
Among other targets, the commission’s proposal will halve the use of chemicals and other dangerous pesticides by 2030 – banning it completely in places such as parks and playgrounds. This would restore 25,000 kilometers of rivers so that they flow along their natural course.
Environmental groups welcomed the proposals.
“The overall response is extremely positive,” said Laura Hildt, a biodiversity policy officer at the European Environment Agency, a green umbrella non-profit organization.
“We are very pleased to see that the commission has come out with a strong proposal that really has the potential to bring back ecosystems that have been destroyed and to improve those that need them,” she said.
However, Hildt and activists say some areas need to be strengthened – including targets for marine recovery and for pesticide use.
“We need to make sure that the principal who says that chemical pesticides should be used only as a last resort is properly applied,” said European Environment Agency pesticide analyst Eva Corral.
Behind the commission’s proposals are frightening statistics. One third of Europe’s bees and other pollinators are declining, and one in 10 is nearly extinct. Those species – along with healthy soils – are essential, not just for biodiversity, but for food production.
EU countries and the European Parliament have yet to approve the draft legislation. Reports suggest that some member states want them delayed or diluted, citing the Ukraine war’s impact on food security.
But, according to Timmermans, the European Commission is pushing back.
“Using the war in Ukraine to water down proposals and scare Europeans into believing that sustainability means less food is frankly quite irresponsible, because we are facing climate and biodiversity crises,” he said.
The measures will financially support European farmers as they move towards more environmentally friendly practices. And the commission says they are just a first step towards building a more sustainable future for the bloc.