Nature restoration is a matter of intergenerational justice

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The European Commission plans to set forward legally-binding nature restoration targets in early 2022 as part of its biodiversity strategy. [XONIX / Shutterstock]

Ahead of the Commission’s proposal for binding nature restoration targets, young Europeans call for targets with urgent and youth-inclusive action as a matter of intergenerational justice, writes Giulia Testa.

Giulia Testa is a campaigner at Generation Climate Europe, a European youth organisation. 

Following the commitments of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, the European Commission plans to set forward binding nature restoration targets in early 2022.

This new law will be either a game changer in EU environmental action or a dramatic missed opportunity to bring EU nature on track to recovery. According to the last EEA State of Nature Report, 81% of EU protected habitats have poor or unfavourable conservation status. It is clear that protecting nature is not enough anymore – it needs to be restored.

Restoring nature is not only a necessary step to save our environment, but it is also a matter of intergenerational justice. That is why European youth call for strong, inclusive and urgent action.

The demands and recommendations are encompassed in the recently published Youth Position Paper on EU Nature Restoration Law, led by Generation Climate Europe and co-written with other major European youth environmental organisations (Youth and Environment Europe, Global Youth Biodiversity Network Europe, Biodiversity Action Europe, Young Rewilders, Young Friends of the Earth Europe), representing millions of young Europeans. The position paper was further backed up by an open survey that gathered the views of young people from different countries. 

“Young people and future generations will be the ones to disproportionately suffer the consequences of current inaction and harmful activities”, reads the paper. Therefore, “including youth in restoration efforts means guaranteeing a solid, long-term outreach of the upcoming Nature Restoration Law.” At the same time, “as shown by different initiatives around the world, young people also have the knowledge to restore ecosystems.”

In a nutshell, these are the reasons behind the youth’s appeal to be acknowledged in the process, engaged in the discussion and empowered to act. As stakeholders of the present and the future, young people need to be meaningfully included in the decision-making processes – together with indigenous people and local communities, who also have a significant role in nature restoration.

This needs to be accompanied by meaningful funding dedicated to restoration efforts, which is made accessible especially for youth. Considering the potential of carbon removal of some restored ecosystems, financing restoration is a cost-effective approach to tackle biodiversity loss and climate change. Furthermore, restoration can provide new jobs and income opportunities for many (young) people; while enhancing the wellbeing of the society with healthier ecosystems; restoration is a win-win solution for both people and the environment.

However, the youth demands and recommendations go even deeper into the form and the content of the law. The new restoration law should better implement the already existing obligations, mostly found in the EU Habitats and Birds Directives. Given the gloomy data on EU nature, these almost 30-year-old Directives are not enough to address the seriousness of the biodiversity crisis. What is needed is a law that brings actual change – and that brings it urgently.

In this regard, one of the strongest key points advanced by European youth is a fair distribution of efforts. Deadlines of 2040 and even 2050 might very easily lead to last-minute implementation. Delayed action means to jeopardise the whole objective, since the longer the wait, the worse the habitat degradation gets; most importantly, it also means to shift the burden of action to current young people and future generations. This, from a perspective of intergenerational justice, is not fair.

European youth want to see most of the action to be taken before 2030, as recently advocated by Generation Climate Europe at the Youth Climate and Sustainability Roundtable with Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries.

The goal for 2030 must be overarching and not leave room for delays due to interpretation and lack of data. The Member States must have clear restoration plans that align to such an ambitious goal; from the EU side, an effective system of implementation and monitoring must be put in practice to make restoration goals already enforceable by 2030.

We had a restoration target for 2020, and we missed it. This time the EU must get it right. After the fiasco of missing almost every Aichi Target, it is evident that the business-as-usual – relying on the same legal instruments that have been used for biodiversity so far – does not work anymore.

We cannot afford poorly inclusive, under-funded and shy environmental legislation. The European Commission and other EU institutions and the Member States cannot waste this golden opportunity to turn the table, restore our nature and move towards intergenerational justice. 

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