2023 nature politics in review, looking out to 2024
2023 was full of challenging battles for nature, marked by both victories and losses. So, let’s have a look at what happened in European nature politics and delve into what lies ahead in the new year!
The first EU law to restore nature on a homestretch
In 2023, our efforts were primarily focused on making the first European law to restore nature a reality—a journey that was, and continues to be, not without challenges. In July, the proposal withstood a crucial vote in the European Parliament, thanks to unprecedented mobilizations by EU citizens. Last November, a final deal was reached among the European Parliament, Council, and Commission, gaining an overwhelming majority of votes from the Environment Committee of the European Parliament. The law is now just two steps away from becoming a reality: adoption by the European Parliament in plenary in February 2024 and the formal approval by Member States in March. Stay tuned!
The EU will continue to poison citizens and nature
Sadly, it’s not looking bright when it comes to EU agriculture as two crucial components of the Farm to Fork Strategy have faced severe obstruction. Late November, Members of the European Parliament rejected the Sustainable Use of Pesticide Regulation. This piece of legislation was supposed to tackle the biodiversity crisis by halving pesticide use by 2030. Despairingly, MEPs fell for the misleading and deceptive information spewed out by big pesticide lobbies. Food security, farmers and citizens will thus continue to be exposed to poison.
Where’s the Sustainable Food Systems Law?
Secondly, the European Commission was supposed to propose a Sustainable Food System Law by the end of 2023, but it’s nowhere to be seen. The ways in which we currently produce food are major drivers of biodiversity loss and we are still awaiting President von der Leyen’s proposal before the end of her mandate. Because, after all, we can’t eat broken promises.
The Common Agriculture Policy… Still not fit for purpose
2023 also marked the first year of the implementation of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). As the year concluded, the European Commission published a summary report on CAP Strategic Plans that paints a rather positive picture about their ability to drive the necessary transition in the farming sector. But the report overlooks some critical issues related to restoring biodiversity on our farmlands. We are eagerly awaiting the publication of a report on the CAP Strategic Plans from the European Court of Auditors, scheduled to come out this spring. The report is poised to provide valuable insights for future policy considerations.
Awaiting a complete ban on lead shot ammunition
Early 2023, using lead shot ammunition in wetlands was banned in all 27 EU countries, as well as Iceland, Norway, and Lichtenstein! Lead shot is particularly problematic for waterbirds that end up ingesting the pellets. This ban is already a great win for nature and a step towards building a non-toxic future. But sadly, lead ammunition in hunting and outdoor sports is still allowed, and lead is still used in fishing sinkers and lures. The European Commission is late publishing a second restriction which proposes a complete ban on their use. We’re expecting it to be out imminently, in time for discussion with Member States in early 2024, reflecting the commitment to the well-being of European citizens and our precious wildlife.
A roadmap to restore our oceans
In February 2023, the Commission published its very important Ocean Package aiming to improve the sustainability and resilience of the EU’s fisheries and aquaculture sector. Within it was the much-awaited Marine Action Plan, providing the first roadmap towards the restoration of marine ecosystems. In March 2024, Member States will have to publish their national roadmaps showing how they intend to implement it. For this to not become another ‘inaction plan’, we urge them to commit to a rapid and efficient implementation, and the Commission to release a public science-based assessment of these roadmaps, to require Member States to address any weaknesses identified, and to closely monitor and properly enforce their timely implementation.
Just before the winter holidays, President von der Leyen took it upon herself to bestow us with a Christmas gift we never wanted… The European Commission proposed to lower the protection status of the wolf from “strictly protected” to only “protected” under the Bern Convention, which means the species could once again become huntable in the EU. This baffling decision is founded on unclear data, with a glaring absence of any official report. The wolf population in Europe has grown in the past years, but only because protection brought them back from the brink of extinction. European wolf populations are yet to attain a healthy, biodiverse status.
The Commission’s proposal now needs to be agreed upon by a qualified majority of Member States in the Council to progress in the legislative process. We will follow this closely to make sure the wolf remains properly protected.
Funding the future
In 2024, we advocate a comprehensive overhaul of the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) to align with the goals set forth in the EU’s Green Deal. The current trajectory of the EU budget debate veers off course, necessitating a recalibration. Given the escalating impacts of climate change and biodiversity crises, there is a glaring inadequacy in confronting biodiversity loss within the EU’s long-term budget. Subsidies that are harmful to the environment must be phased out immediately and instead linked to the provision of ecosystem services.
2024: a year of elections
It’s clear that 2024 will yet be another busy year for our team! But as we look ahead, one of the defining moments will undoubtedly be the European Elections set to unfold in June. It is of uttermost importance that we have the right representatives in the Parliament as we know that a few votes can make the difference for nature as we saw with the Nature Restoration Law. So, the best thing you can do in 2024 for Europe’s nature, is to go out and vote in June!
Cover picture by Skyhigh Captainjoke/ Shutterstock, wolf picture by Rollin Verlinde
Written by Caroline Herman
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