Restoring degraded terrestrial habitats across the EU could take up to 300 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent out of the atmosphere each year – as much as the combined annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, new research reveals. The findings show the huge climate action potential of the upcoming EU Nature Restoration Law.
The study, commissioned by WWF and conducted by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), looked at the climate mitigation potential of restoring “habitats of EU importance” (listed in Annex 1 of the EU Habitats Directive) WWF commissioned the study in the lead up to the EU Nature Restoration Law, which the European Commission is expected to present in March.
When restored, the 47.2 million hectares of Annex 1 habitats that are currently degraded – an area roughly the size of Sweden – could sequester around as much CO2 each year as the entire EU land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) sector.
The study’s findings point to the urgency of taking restoration action, as some habitats will take decades to improve and re-establish carbon cycling. This clearly shows why restoration needs to be accelerated and given immediate priority, and why the bulk of efforts must occur by 2030 and should not be postponed to 2040 or 2050, as is currently being discussed.
The IEEP study further highlights the importance of increasing efforts to protect habitats that are not degraded, to preserve their existing carbon stocks, and also points to the climate benefits of restoring habitats that are not within the scope of the EU Directive. In particular, rewetting drained organic soils that are currently under agricultural use could decrease emissions by more than the annual GHG emissions of countries like Austria or Romania.