The EU Council of Ministers of the Environment, earlier this week, approved a common position on the proposed EU regulations relative to the restoration of nature. Seven EU countries did not support the measure, for a variety of reasons. Poland, the Netherlands, Italy, Finland and Sweden voted against while Belgium and Austria abstained. Malta has supported the measure, a basic legislative initiative in implementation of the Green Deal, honouring commitments undertaken at the 2015 Paris COP 21, the Climate Summit.
The importance of nature in our life is grossly underestimated. It is unfortunately, generally, taken for granted. Being conscious of the role of nature in our life is not just about the provision of green open spaces for recreational purposes in and around our urban areas. At the end of the day, nature is what makes life itself possible. Without nature and the services that it provides, life on earth would not be possible.
By way of illustration, it is generally emphasised that if the bee were to disappear, the human being would not live more than four years. No bees would mean an end to pollination, no more plants, no more animals and hence little left to eat. Life itself would be practically impossible.
The creation of green open spaces or the maintenance of existing ones is not bad policy. It is however not in any way a substitute to the need to protect biodiversity in its natural setting or, as it is normally described, in its natural habitat. Nor can green open spaces substitute or make good the take-up of agricultural land for development, notwithstanding the quality of the agricultural land earmarked for this development.
The two-million square metre incursion of the development zone into ODZ territory was, and still is, blasphemous. The rationalisation exercise which made this possible in 2006 should be reversed the soonest if environmental sweet talk is to have any significance.
What is the purpose of creating reserves or protected areas, terrestrial or marine? The designation of a status of protection must be followed up with meaningful action to ensure that the protected areas are not only taken care of but also that the accumulated damage is reversed the soonest through restoration.
This is the purpose of the current debate at an EU level on the restoration of nature.
The documentation made available by the European Commission to substantiate the urgency of the required action leading to the rehabilitation of nature throughout EU territory emphasises that 81 per cent of protected habitats are currently in a very poor state.
The twelve-part impact assessment published by the EU Commission emphasises that investing in nature restoration pays back considerable dividends. Each euro spend in nature restoration adds between €8 and €38 in economic value due to the resulting enhancement of ecosystem services which support food security, climate, the ecosystem and human health.
Where do we go from here? Malta has joined and is part of the slim majority in the Council of Ministers of the Environment supporting the EU Commission in its endeavours to create a regulatory framework for nature restoration. Cyrus Engerer, the only Maltese MEP forming part of the EU Parliament Environment Committee, supported the EU Commission initiative when it came to a vote in the said Committee thereby contributing to defeating the European People’s Party (EPP) attempted sabotage of the said initiative.
The next steps could be crucial. We need to move forward as a country from verbose declarations in favour of environmental protection to effective measures which stop the accumulating environmental deficit. Only then can we realistically start the rehabilitation and restoration of natural habitats and the eco-system.
We need to reconnect with nature the soonest. No wifi is required.
ADPD Deputy Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 25 June 2023