Protesters and legislators converged on the European Union parliament Tuesday as the bloc faces a major vote on protecting its threatened nature and shielding it from disruptive environmental change, in a test of the EU's global climate credentials.
Spurred on by climate activist Greta Thunberg, hundreds of demonstrators were set to demand that the EU pushes through a bill to beef up the restoration of nature in the 27-nation bloc that was damaged during decades of industrial expansion.
Inside the legislature in Strasbourg, France, parliamentarians were bracing ahead of Wednesday's vote for a brutal debate over whether to push the plan off the table. The legislature's environment committee last month was deadlocked at 44-44 on it.
We urge them to not reject it but vote for the strongest law possible. To mitigate the climate crisis and halt biodiversity loss, we must #RestoreNature, Thunberg wrote on her Twitter feed.
The bill is a key part of the EU's vaunted European Green Deal that seeks to establish the world's most ambitious climate and biodiversity targets and make the bloc the global point of reference on all climate issues.
The plans proposed by the EU's executive commission set binding restoration targets for specific habitats and species, with the aim by 2030 to cover at least 20 per cent of the region's land and sea areas.
The EU's executive commission wants the nature restoration law to be a key part of the system since it is necessary for the overall deal to have the maximum input.
Others say that if the EU fails on the nature restoration law, it would indicate an overall fatigue on climate issues.
The bill long looked like a shoo-in as it gathered widespread support in member nations and was staunchly defended by the EU's executive commission and its president Ursula von der Leyen.
But von der Leyen's own political group, the Christian Democrat European People's Party, turned sour on it and now vehemently opposes it, claiming it will affect food security and undermine the income of farmers.
As the largest group, with 177 seats in the 705-seat legislature, its opposition has been key in turning the issue into a hot political debate.
For the EPP Group, no other outcome other than a rejection of the law is acceptable. We want to protect nature, but this law is badly drafted and ill conceived," said EPP MEP Christine Schneider.
The member states have already agreed by a large majority to back a slightly more flexible version of the bill and if parliament backs the plan on Wednesday both institutions would sit down to broker a final layout in the second half of the year.
If parliament rejects the plan Wednesday, it would have to be sent back to the drawing board and it's unlikely anything would emerge ahead of the June EU parliament elections next year. And that would undermine the EU's credibility abroad since it has put so much into its vaunted Green Deal.
The Green Deal includes a wide range of measures, from reducing energy consumption to sharply cutting transportation emissions and reforming the EU's trading system for greenhouse gases.
Beyond environmental protesters, hundreds of international scientists and even a large group of multinationals have called for the adoption of the EU's nature restoration law.
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