Policy papers

Cities welcome Nature Restoration Law

2 May 2023

European Commission’s proposed Nature Restoration Law, will set legally binding targets for tree canopy coverage and other aspects of land use to ensure that the environment, local ecosystems, and people’s right to experience nature are all taken into account. Europe’s cities welcome this law, seeing it as a positive step towards creating more green spaces in urban areas.

However, there are concerns that the law needs to be improved to align with the EU Biodiversity Strategy and to include provisions for biodiversity and accessibility to urban green spaces. These concerns and the reasoning behind them are outlined in Eurocities proposed amendments to the Nature Restoration Law.

“This law is a step in the right direction towards creating more green spaces in our urban areas,” says Heather Brooks, Eurocities Nature Policy Expert. “Legally binding targets for things like tree canopy coverage will help ensure a balanced use of land that benefits the climate, local ecosystems, and people’s right to experience nature.”

Naturally different

One of the main criticisms of the law is the target of a 3% increase in green space by 2040. While this may be achievable for some cities, others with already extensive coverage may find it unrealistic. For example, many Nordic cities like Espoo have large amounts of green space and few sites suitable for repurposing.

We don’t have blocks which can be demolished and repurposed because the city is very new
— Tarja Söderman

Tarja Söderman, Espoo’s Director of Environmental Affairs, explains: “We don’t have many brownfields or industrial areas; we don’t have blocks which can be demolished and repurposed because the city is very new.”

Instead, Eurocities is calling for a more flexible approach that takes local circumstances into account. Brooks says that “a better approach would be to define the increase in green space through cooperation between cities and national governments, taking local circumstances into account.”

“Cities are different,” says Brooks, “some have forests and mountains within their limits, while some have only a couple of small parks – so we need a law that respects context and listens to cities’ insights about what is best for them.”

Another concern is the potential for the law to encourage urban sprawl, which could have a negative impact on the environment. While green spaces are important, urban density has its own advantages in terms of energy efficiency, which can help cities combat climate change. Therefore, the law needs to strike a balance between creating green spaces and maintaining urban density.

We need to ensure this law doesn’t encourage urban sprawl
— Heather Brooks

“We need to ensure this law doesn’t encourage urban sprawl, pushing buildings into areas that are already richly natural and biodiverse,” Brooks says.

An accurate picture

Accurate data is also crucial to the success of the law, and Eurocities is calling for a supplement to EU-level satellite data with national and local data to ensure that progress is monitored effectively. Sometimes, for example, satellite data may mistake a large lake for a field or make other similar errors leading to a miscalculation of the actual green area in a city.

“Accurate data is critical for monitoring progress, and the law should supplement EU-level satellite data with national and local data, to make sure that there are no mistakes,” Brooks says. “It’s also essential to channel funding to local governments so that they can take the steps to make these targets a reality, especially when it comes to long-term maintenance of green space.”

Quality, not quantity

As part of the Urban Agenda Partnership on Greening Cities, Eurocities is working with cities, national governments, and the European Commission to tackle some of the challenges cities will face with this law, such as how to work with private landowners to protect green space and how to measure green space in terms of quality, not just quantity. Eurocities has called for a standardised way of measuring biodiversity that can help nature thrive.

“So, while the Nature Restoration Law is very promising, it must respect context, embrace flexibility, and ensure that all sorts of plants and creatures can live in balance with people from all walks of life,” Brooks says. “We must ensure that this law creates green spaces that are accessible to everyone and that biodiversity is protected.”