Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 18 January 2023
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Regulation on Nature Restoration: European Commission
We have received apologies from the Cathaoirleach, Deputy Jackie Cahill. I will be chairing the proceedings today. I remind all witnesses to turn off their mobile phones.
The purpose of today's meeting is to undertake an examination of proposal COM (2022) 304, a regulation from the European Parliament and Council on nature restoration. The committee will hear from Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa, Director for Biodiversity, from the European Commission.
All those present in the committee room are asked to exercise personal responsibility to protect themselves and others from the risk of contracting Covid-19.
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COM (2022) 304 is a regulation from the European Parliament and Council on nature restoration. Dr. Delgado Rosa is more than welcome to the committee. I ask him to introduce himself, his committee, and the advisers he has with him. He has 15 minutes to make his contribution.
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
I thank the Vice Chairman. I am very honoured to address the committee. Members may notice that I have picked my best green tie in honour of the great Irish nation and also because it is appropriate for nature. I am director for biodiversity in the Directorate-General for Environment of the European Commission and so I hold responsibility for the proposal of the nature restoration law. I will try to make the best use of these 15 minutes. The committee asked me to make a presentation on nature restoration. I hope members can see my slides and hear me well.
The subtitle of the EU Nature Restoration Law on my first slide is "Restoring ecosystems for people, nature and the climate". This is derived from the fact that we have a global biodiversity crisis, including in the EU, with close links with climate. We have a lost a lot of nature and services. I would like to press the point that this is a proposal for people, for humans' sake, not for the sake of nature, because we have lost ecosystem services that we need to put back.
As members will probably know, the nature restoration law proposal derives from the European Green Deal, within which you will find this area of protecting and restoring nature right next to the strategy From Farm to Fork, as well as clean energy and climate. There is a recognition that the European Green Deal aims at an integrated approach to what is the prevailing crisis of unsustainability, of which biodiversity is one of the elements, very linked to climate. As even science shows, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC is telling us, we need nature restoration for the sake of climate. The World Economic Forum is telling us repeatedly that one of the top global risks for the economy is biodiversity loss.
From the European Green Deal, a biodiversity strategy for 2030 was derived. In this view, we need to provide for EU leadership and EU leadership internationally can only come from setting an example. That is why we have an ambitious strategy with these four blocks: protecting nature, restoring nature, enabling transformative change and what we want globally. Restoration is one fundamental element of the biodiversity strategy. The biodiversity strategy includes what was called the EU nature restoration plan, of which one fundamental element was announcing that we would come out with a nature restoration law.
I refer to my second slide which is about the logic of what one finds in the biodiversity strategy. First, there is recognition of the continuing loss and degradation of biodiversity. I want to show members the rest of the slide but I am afraid they can only see the first sentence. I can complement it by saying that protection remains very important. We have targets for more protected areas, in land and seas, being effectively managed. However, the voluntary targets of the previous biodiversity strategy were not met so we need a reinforced approach. That means coming forward with a proposal for legally binding targets for nature restoration. That is one element of the nature restoration plan of the biodiversity strategy to 2030.
I refer to some of the considerations behind the proposals. The first area we considered is regulation on the grounds that it is quicker to apply, is more coherent and still allows a lot of flexibility, which I will refer to later. We also considered the proposals should build on and complement the existing policy framework and that there would be a link with nature restoration, namely, the nature directives, the water framework directive and the marine strategy framework directive. It is also very much about building on the synergies between climate change and nature, that being the service and mitigation and adaptation, and the perception of the need for large-scale restoration effort. In addition, the proposed targets should be area or indicator based in order for them to be measurable, monitorable and verifiable.
The next two slides contain images showing the kinds of restoration we have in mind. In the first slide, we put back a more diverse ecosystem and brought more nature elements into the landscape during restoration. There are other examples, such as in agriculture. On the next slide, the image on the left shows intensive agriculture fields and on the right it shows how we can bring more diversity into the landscape. We still maintain the agricultural use but we have restored landscape features and included more ecosystem services that can help agriculture. These are images amidst words.
This is nothing new; restoration is indeed already happening everywhere in Europe, including in Ireland. The issue is that restoration efforts, so far, were not enough. That has brought about the need for restoration on a larger scale to ensure the introduction of what we want, which is ecosystem services. There are two kinds of restoration. It can be either active, where components of nature are actively put back, or passive, where pressures are reduced and nature is allowed to bounce back and recover.
I will now get into the proposal. I refer to the slide on structure where members will see our overarching objective, to which I will refer later, that derives from the concrete, binding restoration targets for the types of ecosystems. It will also foresee an implementation framework within which there are the key elements of subsidiarity, which include the national restoration plans that member states should do, and provisions on monitoring and reporting. Let me say a bit more about all of this.
The overarching object includes restoration measures to cover 20% of EU’s land and sea by 2030, and the putting in place of measures for all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. This is the objective that derives from what the binding targets - the other targets - will entail. Within the restoration targets, we see two basic different types. The first two are for habitats, including habitats of protected species that are already protected in the birds and habitats directives. In a way, the duty to restore pre-exists in the directives because member states are expected to attain favourable conservation status for these habitats and species. However, there were no timeline or numbers attached to this. That is one set of targets.
We also have targets for other kinds of ecosystems that were not previously protected, such as: marine habitats; urban ecosystems; rivers; pollinators and other species; agro-ecosystems; and forest ecosystems. For these ecosystems, the approach is different, some of which I will speak a bit more about although it will not be exhaustive. First, I refer to those based on existing legislation, namely, the birds and habitats directives. There are two kinds of targets that are effort based, meaning restoration measures to improve the conditions of habitat types, to a certain extent, by 2030, 2040 and 2050, as well as in other cases where the re-establishment of ecosystems is needed to attain favourable reference areas. In addition, measures are for habitats of species to improve the quality and quantity of the habitats. There are also provisions that are outcome based, including improvement in areas and non-deterioration provisions, with exceptions. By way of a general comment, for these kinds of habitats, we do have the baseline for reference level and what we want to obtain, which is favourable conservation status, as per the birds and habitats directives. What we bring as a novelty is how much to attain by each decade.
I am just giving some examples of the other habitats and will then focus a bit more on the agricultural ones. For rivers, we expect member states to identify and remove barriers that prevent connectivity in order to attain targets for protecting the riverine habitats and ecosystems. It also includes the objective of restoring at least 25,000 km of free-flowing rivers. There are many obsolete barriers that are doing nothing in the rivers and their removal would bring a benefit.
We do have a target for pollinator populations and members will see the trend of the targets in the next slide. Through these targets, what we propose is an increasing trend in indicators until a satisfactory level is reached. That is the case for pollinators. We propose such a trend in addition to a methodology for annual monitoring.
I refer to the targets that may be of most interest to this committee, that is, the agricultural ecosystem targets. There are some types of grasslands, forests and peatlands that are protected habitats in themselves. They are covered under the previous articles of the birds and habitats directives. I refer to those that are not previously protected ecosystems. These provisions require an increasing trend in some indicators until a certain satisfactory level can be achieved, examples of which are: grassland butterfly index; organic carbon in mineral soils; the sharing of agricultural land with landscape features; and a specific target to enhance the farmland bird index by 2030, 2040 and 2050. In addition, there is a specific target on an issue I know is sensitive and relevant for Ireland, which is drained peatlands and their agricultural use.
First, why are we targeting drained peatlands and their agricultural use? Members will understand it easily from the climate prognosis. We estimate that 3% of EU agricultural lands is on drained peatland in agricultural use, but 25% of agricultural emissions come from this land. When there are requirements for climate policy to reduce emissions, it is a good choice to go for peatlands and their agricultural use. What we are proposing is restoration measures of at least 30% by 2030, 50% by 2040, and 70% by 2050, of which a quarter by 2030 and a half by 2040 and 2050 will be rewetted. However, we do have many flexibility clauses within it from the sensitivity of addressing agricultural land, including options to work on other kinds of peatland, such as peat exhaustion sites.
It is partly for other types of drained peatlands, such as peatland where afforestation took place. I suspect we can discuss peatlands further after my presentation.
I refer to forest ecosystem targets. To put it succinctly, it is an equivalent approach. We propose to achieve an increasing trend in some indicators until they reach satisfactory levels. The set of indicators relates to sustainable forest management. They are indicators which member states are already monitoring. They relate to both biodiversity and to forest resilience, which is an important topic, and to our approach.
I refer to the implementation framework, which has two components. The first is national restoration plans. We expect member states, first, to prepare their national restoration plans. That includes identifying the measures through monitoring and research, quantifying and mapping the restoration areas, defining the satisfactory levels I referred to for some indicators, and identifying synergy with other goals, including climate change and other plans and strategies. I am sorry the slide in my presentation is not showing the content for the framework. It will include quantification and description of the concrete restoration measures, the non-deterioration measures, the timing, details on how to finance the implementation from several sources, and how to engage with the public in a participatory process. Be aware we are proposing two years for the submission of the plans and for the Commission to have a role in assessing them but not approving them. It is for the member states to take into account the comments of the Commission.
There are provisions in the implementation framework regarding monitoring and reporting. We expect member states to monitor several aspects, conditions, trends, areas, indicators and populations, and to report on the implementation. The Commission, along with the European Environment Agency, will assess the progress and then report to the European Parliament and European Council. There is a section on my slide, in a blue dot, to show that this involves significant technology nowadays, including Earth observation, which can simplify and help with such monitoring and reporting.
To describe our impact assessment in a nutshell, based on several scientific studies, it has concluded there are costs for restoration but the benefits far outweigh the costs. We get €8 for each €1 invested in restoration, but this is an underestimation because some ecosystem services are not easily measurable. In some specific ecosystems, it can go as far as €1 delivering €32 in benefits. Examples include reversing the decline in pollinators, which provides better production in some crops. Increasing biodiversity in forests makes them more resilient to climate change. They will burn less and have fewer outbreaks of bark beetle. They are less affected by droughts, so production also benefits. There will be a particular impact on marine ecosystems where fish stocks are allowed to get more habitat and more protection. Fish grow bigger, lay more eggs, and fisheries benefit. A specific French case has demonstrated it.
I have a word on financing, which is relevant. Let us keep in mind that in the current general financial framework of the EU, much money is available for biodiversity, up to €100 billion, which amounts to up to €14 billion per year from several sources, including the Common Agricultural Policy, Cohesion Funding, the international fund, the marine and fisheries fund, the LIFE fund, Horizon Europe, and others for research and so on. More than €20 billion should be unlocked for biodiversity every year until 2030 as part of the green deal. This comes together with the specific biodiversity target we have for the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, which amounts to 7.5% of the budget dedicated to biodiversity from 2024. While it is not clearly visible on my slide, it will be 10% from 2026. Beyond the MFF, there is the EU recovery and resilience facility, which brings more money for the green transition and which should include biodiversity. There is already much national funding for biodiversity. My presentation notes the figure since 2019. More and more businesses and companies are taking up this nature-positive approach to biodiversity, which requires several instruments to have private funding for biodiversity, including for restoration.
I think this covers the essence of matters. I thank members for their attention and look forward to a debate and replying to members' questions.
I welcome the director. I thank him for his presentation and for joining us to give us the opportunity to discuss the proposals. I have a couple of brief questions that I ask him to elaborate on. He highlighted in his presentation that Ireland might be considered unique in that we have a high percentage of drained peatlands under agricultural use. Whatever proposals are finally agreed will probably affect the Irish agriculture sector more than they may other areas. Dr. Delgado Rosa's second last slide had details of the impact assessment.
I thank the Vice Chairman. As I do not know how much the director heard of what I said earlier, I will start again. My comments were based on the fact that Ireland is unique in respect of the amount of drained peatland we have in agricultural use compared with other areas. In my father’s time, the grant aid from the EU actually was to drain this land and consequently much of this land is now drained and in agricultural production. The targets now are that 70% of this would be restored and a large percentage of it would be rewetted.
Based on that and from Dr. Delgado Rosa’s presentation, I believe his second-last slide demonstrated the impact assessment but this assessment was basically on nature, habitats and what can be achieved. I would like to know what impact assessments, cost-benefit analyses or even stress testing may have been done in formulating the proposals with regard to farmers’ income but, more importantly, food security. Any measures being proposed from an Irish context in any regard would result in a reduction in food production. While we are in the midst of enormous population growth at the moment, where is the line drawn where we may have an issue with food security, how was food security considered in the proposals and what impact assessment might have been done in that regard?
I also note that while Dr. Delgado Rosa stated there will be financing, there is no detail on the financing at the moment. He mentioned in his presentation that he included the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP. We all know that CAP was set up originally to ensure cheap, traceable, top quality food. It has since become almost an environmental scheme and these proposals are now highlighting CAP as one of the formats of compensation for a rewetting or nature restoration scheme. How will that affect food production from a cost perspective, irrespective of a quantity perspective, when it comes to food security and how much consideration has been given to all of these issues? What modelling had been done and where will the line be drawn, which will have to be negotiated, with regard to the European Union’s food security?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
I will reply to the questions as well as I can and I will start by discussing peatland where in the sense that Ireland certainly has much peatland, including in agricultural use. It is not really a single case in that other member states, such as the Netherlands, Finland, Germany, Poland and others also have quite a proportion. I will discuss here what this means for Ireland, specifically.
First, peatlands and wetlands in general, but peatland in particular play a crucial role in climate change mitigation in that they are the richest ecosystems for carbon sinks. From a mere climate policy perspective, irrespective of the nature restoration law, it makes a great deal of sense to consider rewetting peatland for the sake of the climate. We have been very keen in all of the policies we do deriving from the European Green Deal to ensure coherence. I am referring here to the land use, land change and forestry regulation, which requires many more carbon sinks from member states. In the case of those states which have the potential to use peatland for that; that would appear to be a reasonable choice for climate policy.
One distinction to be made is that, again, within peatland there are peatland habitats which are protected by new law in the case of climate. I refer here to waste bogs and blanket bogs, for which the duty to restore pre-existed, as I said before.
The Senator is actually referring to this rewetting of drained peatland in agricultural use, which is aimed to greatly benefit the climate and biodiversity. I have already given the reasons because much of the emissions from agriculture come from this kind of agricultural use.
I must stress there is a great number of flexibility clauses, as I already said. What are the flexibility aspects? First, this entails that the areas for restoration only cover part of drained peatlands. This is 30% up to 2030 and up to 70% by 2050. By 2030, only one quarter of these lands are to be rewetted and by 2050, half of these lands must be rewetted. Rewetting means raising the water table. The level of this depends on different circumstances but should, in any case, be raised to a level where there is a benefit for the climate in the lands' resumption as peatland.
Many of the possible restoration measures do not exclude farming, in the sense that there are some more extensive usages of grassland, for instance, which will indeed remain even when one rewets. If one fully rewets, of course, the change is more fundamental.
That is why there are two further elements of flexibility. One is allowing the restoration or rewetting on peat extraction sites, which also exist abundantly in Ireland. Further restoration measures arise with other peatlands, for example, with those lands where forests have been planted on drained peatlands. This then is to say that as far as the numbers that I see are concerned, it is an Irish decision as to how much this policy is applied to drained peatland under agricultural use, or to other peat extraction sites. It could theoretically be possible to achieve the full 2030 targets exclusively through other options, if so desired by Ireland.
A further point I would like to mention is what this means for Ireland. Ireland had already decided on some rewetting of drained peatlands before the nature restoration law came into existence on grounds of climate. Ireland’s climate action plan and its plans to climatise agriculture already include provisions on rewetting peatland which apparently or possibly - I do not have the exact figures with me now - are as ambitious or more ambitious than what is in the nature restoration law. This is to say that we are not preaching to member states on exactly how to do it, or the extent to which these states address this policy to agricultural lands, as such. That will depend on particular circumstances but we are certainly showing the trend that is coherent with other policies that we need to have addressed, mostly because of the commitments of member states for climate policy.
I would like to make one comment where the Senator asked about the CAP funding.
One should remember that what we propose for agricultural ecosystems in general entails some changes to practices but this change is wholly compatible with maintaining farming and even benefiting productivity from the angle of what nature can give back in the context of pollinators, soil, nutrients, water etc. The targets being proposed are also fully coherent and aligned with other targets we will find in the EU's biodiversity strategy for 2030. In the farm-to-fork strategy, for instance, we talk about organic agriculture, reducing the use and risk of pesticides, the loss of nutrients, the 10% biodiversity landscape features etc.
Much of what was proposed and planned by member states in their CAP strategic plans through the ecosystem schemes and rural development measures are already in the same line as what the restoration in agricultural land would require. It is true what the Senator said in that the CAP in the past, mostly from 2014 to 2022, had no specific protection clause concerning cross-compliance or green protection of wetlands. Indirectly, though, through the green system, there was indeed protection of sensitive permanent grassland designation throughout agri-environment and climate measures that also covered some types of grasslands, wetlands and peatlands. With the new CAP now, however, the precise new conditionality that exists in the so-called good agricultural and environmental conditions, GAEC 2, standards on the protection of wetland and peatland is very much aligned with the nature restoration proposed. Member states, therefore, in their strategic plans, and Ireland notably, have provisions applicable to these areas in their own plans. We therefore aim and hope towards coherence.
The Senator asked about the impact assessment. I do not have specific figures for Ireland. Our impact assessment was mainly based on those from studies, and these can be provided later. I do not have the figures for all the member states with me or the studies on which they were based.
Turning to food security, the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission has started - there is a report on this - on the links between nature restoration and food security. It has concluded that in the long run, the best ally of food security is indeed nature restoration and, by the way, also climate action. This is because if we lose pollinators, then we also lose soil etc. Food security is then indeed at risk. Climate change and biodiversity loss is a big pressure on food security and here we are also precisely addressing this issue through nature restoration.
The question I was asking about food security concerned the period from 2030 to 2050, when the population has increased even more. It will be then that these areas will be needed most. Has an impact assessment been done on our food security based on the population figures from 2030 to 2050? It is then that the EU will be asking us to take productive land out of the system. Has that assessment been done?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
It is my perception that the amount of agricultural area in drained peatland in Ireland is just a proportion, and I believe not enormous, of the agricultural land in Ireland overall. If I am not wrong, therefore, even if rewetting would imply some reduction of production, and this is not necessarily abandoning production of all kinds, but even in that context, the measures there for land and ecosystems actually reinforce productivity, production and resilience in those areas in the long run. Regarding 2050, therefore, if the measures are properly applied to ecosystems, food security would be reinforced and not put at stake.
I thank Dr. Delgado Rosa. He spoke about favourable status and looking at favourable status and targets. I worked with scientists when we were involved in the rewetting of peatlands. You could do all the things in rewetting but for one reason or another, I have seen peatlands and boglands in Ireland such as Raheenmore, for example, which is designated, that have never been able to reach favourable status. It actually decreased. This was even though there was nothing going on. All the rewetting had been done. What is Dr. Delgado Rosa's answer to this point? I refer to when he speaks about ensuring legally that there is favourable status.
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
I thank the Deputy for the question. Favourable conservation status would apply to peatlands and bogs that are protected habitats. I have referred to a couple of them. In that regard, we have no evidence that favourable conservation status will ever be unachievable. We do have points and baselines, including reports from Ireland itself and the other member states, in this regard and for these areas we can expect favourable conservation status to be obtained in the long run.
Turning to the non-protected areas, this is about changing the conditions so as to have some restoration of the peatland itself with climate and biodiversity benefits. We are not, for the non-protected ones, aiming to obtain what would be called favourable conservation status. There is this fundamental difference. The level of restoration and rewetting and climate benefits will have to be defined by the member states themselves. As I said, I do believe Ireland already has plans to rewet, irrespective of the nature restoration law, that would take into account the needs of restoring peatland for planning purposes.
We will try to keep these questions and answers as short as we can. Dr. Delgado Rosa talked about productivity in different areas. We talk about a thing called community. The European Commission might not know much about it. We also talk about private property rights in Ireland. On productivity, what would Dr. Delgado Rosa say to farmers in this regard? He should bear in mind that Ireland has approximately 95% of its peatlands in its north west, west, midlands and south west. There are many farmers who raise families and contribute to communities in those areas. When the CAP was brought in, it was to keep the price of food cheap. It was to subsidise it. Farmers would not get as much for their stock, but they got it a different way. Now, however, all these other things are being closed in. Let us call a spade a spade here. When Dr. Delgado Rosa talks about rewetting peatland, the only way it will ever be possible to get it to a favourable status is by raising the water level and making the land moist. It is not flooded but it is made moist. We have done this already. There is no point in Dr. Delgado Rosa telling me or anybody else that farmers will be walking cattle up and down such a field. They will not be, nor, for that matter, will they be walking sheep.
Turning to the figures Dr. Delgado Rosa was on about, he talked about the amount of methane and carbon coming out of peatland. A study is being conducted in Ireland now and the initial figures - I admit these are not fully done because the work will take a few years - are totally different to what is coming from the Netherlands and other places. What would Dr. Delgado say to farmers who have farmed and contributed to communities and who have all their land in peatland? This is what some people here have. What would he say to these people? Where will they go? I can tell him now that regardless of whether he likes it or whether the EU wants to drive this on top of Ireland, the study he talked about, and the cost-benefit analysis of 8:1, has not been done in a context looking at a family living and contributing to a community in a rural part of this country. Land types are totally different in different parts of Ireland. What would Dr. Delgado Rosa say to those farmers who would basically have to abandon their lands? It was said there is one figure for 2030 and Bord na Móna can cover this figure for 2030.
On 1 January 2040, 50% of it has to be done. That means we in Ireland have to have 90,000 ha from 2030 to 2040 done. We have to have 60,000 ha done before that going by the figures that I have of 300,000 ha. Where do private property rights come into this in the so-called regulations?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
I was recently in a meeting with Finnish stakeholders and I was asked exactly the same question by a farmer working on drained peatland who was wondering what would happen. Let me first address the private property rights which is a general question. The bindingness of this proposal is on the member states. It is not upon private landowners, farmers or any others. It is for the member states to decide how they will approach it. There are many successful, voluntary and incentive approaches in Finland. It is not for us in the European Commission to say how private property rights-----
The European Commission is the one that is bringing in this EU nature regulation. It is fine to talk about all the member states, but if it is agreed at European level then it is in to every country and the onus is on every country and we have to report back to the EU. Is that correct or not?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
Absolutely. I am saying exactly that. We are bringing legal bindingness to the member states. They will have to follow the targets but the way in which they follow them does not impose anything against private ownership. That must be tackled implementing the nature restoration plans. If member states want to address it through binding measures, voluntary measures, incentives or whatever else, it is in their hands. There is nothing incompatible in our proposal with private property rights.
I apologise for interrupting but the witness said that there would be no encroachment on private property. The habitats directive has encroached on every piece of private property around Ireland. Let us not live in a fantasy world that this proposal will not be encroaching on private property.
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
There is nothing new from the duties that derive from the habitats directive. Here I am discussing non-protected habitats. There is nothing in the regulations that encroaches on private property rights. It is a decision of the member states in the nature restoration plans that must be done in full consultation with stakeholders.
Let me address the farmers. What would I say to a farmer who has all of his land in drained peatland? The first thing I would say is that it depends on the decision of the member state that he can fully maintain, as is, his own activity. That specific farm does not need to be put under restoration. It will depend on national decisions and conveniences.
It is true when we say for each €1 invested there are €8 of benefit. Much of this benefit is public benefit for which there should be public money going to support these public works. The rewetting, when it does come in, changes production. By the way, allow me to dismiss something. We are not preaching at all that Ireland should put water buffalo on drained peatland in the future. We refer in our examples and the considerations that some forms of production, paludiculture, some kinds of berries, water buffaloes in some areas can be options to maintain other kinds of production. It depends on what is possible in Ireland and that is dependent on the Irish situation that I do not know enough about. There are several levels of rewetting. Rewetting is bringing up the water table but not up to the surface as compatible with maintaining some types of use so production can be affected or changed but not fully changed everywhere, depending on the option of the member state.
We are seeing that there are societal trends on peatland which are different from the past. In the past there was peat extraction for energy and there was drainage for agricultural production. Nowadays, we are seeing that these ecosystems are crucial for climate change purposes. There is a value in carbon. There is a carbon farming initiative being shaped. Imagine in the future that adding to the normal production of a grassland there is another production, either biodiversity or carbon capture which can have a monetary value to it. Policies can be devised to pay ecosystems services.
My final comment is on methane from rewetting. We have heard that when rewetting is done there are also methane emissions. All of the studies we have seen so far indicate that climate benefits, even counting this methane emission from rewetting vegetation. I am not aware of a specific Irish study that would show otherwise but we are very receptive to any scientific information that you may wish to make us aware of.
Two final questions. Where there is forestry on peatlands my understanding is that Norway and Sweden have objected because they would have to cut down those spruce forests and rewet the area.
The witness said that it is up to each member state regarding the infringement on private property. When the member state does not own peaty drained peatlands that are under agricultural use who is it going to affect only the farmers in the area. The witness talks about carbon farming. I put it to the witness that in certain parts of Ireland if we continue in this direction we will see land abandonment and theme parks if this type of action goes ahead. People will not have to be living on the land to be carbon farming.
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
Let me get back to the impact on farmers and potential land abandonment. Let us refer to the nature restoration law again. As far as I am informed Ireland has its own climate action programme 2021 and the coming plan in 2023 that if I am not wrong it amounts to more rewetting of drained peatland potentially than we are proposing in the nature restoration law. There is an issue to be tackled which is climate change and the consensus is that peatland is a very appropriate target for that. If the issues are property rights and how to tackle them they will need to be dealt with from a carbon perspective. We are convinced there are good options to fully respect private property rights. We have seen that happen in other member states.
On afforestation in drained peatlands including with non-native Sitka spruce we have some concerns in the European Commission on the Irish strategy of planting Sitka spruce in important areas for biodiversity, including peatland and grasslands, that often threatens habitats and species under the habitats directives. Addressing or not other kinds of drained peatland including land used for afforestation or peatland under extraction is fully, in this case, an Irish option. It can be taken into account or not. It depends on the will of the member state
I thank the Vice Chair and I thank Dr. Delgado Rosa for joining us remotely. In response to previous questions the witness mentioned that the application of this regulation will fall to the member state.
Deputy Matt Carthy: I thank the Chair and Dr. Delgado Rosa for joining us remotely. The witness mentioned in response to previous questions that the application of this regulation will fall to the member state.
Dr. Delgado Rosa mentioned in response to a number of previous questions that the application of this regulation will fall to the member state. Is there anything within current EU law that will prevent member states from enacting a law, which would deliver the outcome that the Commission seeks in this, at a domestic level?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
If I understand the question, the Deputy is asking me whether member states can put into national law provisions to address the targets in the nature restoration law. Yes, they can, of course. The regulation applies directly but nothing prevents member states from taking further national measures, if they so desire, that will be compatible-----
As opposed to this EU regulation, would anything prevent the Government simply moving ahead and adopting measures? Is there anything in the Commission's proposals that it would currently be unacceptable under EU law to apply domestically?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
Not as far as I can imagine. What we are proposing seems fully compatible, for sure, with EU law. We are doing something evaluated internally in our scrutiny boards in order to be coherent with other EU law. Nothing prevents or stands in the way of other national measures that could come in the same sense or even beyond what we are proposing with regard to nature restoration, or be compatible with it, if I understand the Deputy's question.
Considering the principle of subsidiarity, which is one of the principles of the EU, rather than trying to adopt a one-size-fits-all regulation to be applied across 27 member states, why would the Commission not encourage member states to apply a domestic law that takes into account the unique circumstances of each state at that level?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
The regulation proposal is not at all a one-size-fits-all proposal. It is rather the contrary. The regulation proposal brings in the types of habitats to be considered in a certain timescale but after that, the size is to be defined by the member state. The member state knows better how, where and what to restore. Why did we bring forward the regulation? Why are we proposing binding targets? It is, very simply, because the voluntary approaches of the past failed. The Deputy knows the biodiversity strategy to 2020 called for voluntary national restoration plans. As far as I remember, only one member state, Finland, came with its own national restoration plans.
Given the situation with regard to biodiversity globally in the EU, continuing to bet on a voluntary approach would fail. The new deal for nature that was obtained in Montreal in December, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, has several quantified targets that bind the parties, including the countries that are part of the convention, such as Ireland. The deal includes a target of 30% of restoration of degraded ecosystems to 2030. We are moving with the trend on addressing restoration on a more quantified and, in this case, binding manner.
I wish to move on and elaborate on that point. I am a former Member of the European Parliament. One of the difficulties we have here is that every so often, when a regulation is applied and local communities are annoyed, upset or frustrated by its application, our Government will tell them there is nothing it can do because this is an EU regulation. What it does not acknowledge is having signed off, behind closed doors at a European Council meeting, on that very same regulation some time beforehand.
There is a difficulty, which is acknowledged by the Commission, with regard to laws that are applied that impact on communities. When they are decided upon at a EU level, those communities are not aware of its full implications. That creates a democratic problem but it also includes a problem with regard to the application when it comes down to the practical levels. Does the Commission intend to commission a socioeconomic impact assessment of the potential implications of the proposed regulation, on a member-state-by-member-state basis?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
With regard to the second part of the question, we have done our impact assessment. We have submitted it to our regulatory scrutiny board. The assessment was approved and, thus, we have the proposal on the table. We are not planning to come with any further detailed impact assessments, sector by sector or member state by member state. The figures are the ones we have.
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
I refer to the cost-benefit analysis. I do not have figures on a member-state-by-member-state basis for all of the 27 member states. I am not aware at this stage of the precise figures for Ireland, if they exist. There probably are some elements with regard to amount of land such as peatland, etc., but I do not have them at this stage. We can provide them afterwards.
Does Dr. Delgado Rosa think it would be appropriate for member state governments to carry out a socioeconomic assessment within their own countries prior to ministers and MEPs voting on this regulation?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
That is fully a decision of the member states. I do not know the national circumstances. If a member state finds it needs to study an aspect related to this or other regulations, it is free to do so. I will comment on another thing the Deputy said with regard to there being a sense that on the whole there is nothing the member state can do and it being all Brussels. We know that kind of phenomenon exists but we have provisions in the regulation for how the national restoration plans need to be framed. There must be participation. Stakeholder involvement in the shaping of the nature restoration plans is one requirement of the regulation. We are bringing in a tough stance in that it should not be possible to leave stakeholders totally unaware of what will be planned in national restoration plans.
Unfortunately, my own experience is that, in many respects, it is only when this arrives at somebody's door or farm gate that he or she realises its implication. Mr. Delgado Rosa can correct me if I am wrong on the figures but the draft regulation states that 70% of each member state's drained, farmed peatlands must be restored by 2050, with half of this area to be placed specifically under rewetting measures. Is that Dr. Delgado Rosa's understanding? Am I correct in those figures?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
It would be any measure that would extensify grassland use such as having fewer animals per hectare, having raised a water level without affecting the grassland or using fewer inputs. Whatever will bring benefits for biodiversity or climate amounts to restoration. The figures to which the Deputy referred are correct, notwithstanding the flexibility clauses that allow member states to opt for other types of peatland other than for agricultural use.
In many respects, we are talking about farms that are very extensive at present. They are very small numbers per hectare of either cattle or sheep. Does Dr. Delgado Rosa envisage that some of these drained farm peatlands could be restored and that cattle or sheep would continue to be on those farms?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
Of course, I do not know the concrete situation of the farms to which the Deputy is referring. If they are already very extensive, I do not know to what amount they could be de-intensified or extensified. However, we consider that restoration measures in some conditions are compatible with maintaining - possibly with some changes - the same kind of production they had.
I have to assume the very fact Dr. Delgado Rosa is not able to give straight answer suggests that in many instances, for land to be restored and qualify as such, beef or sheep production would not take place on those farms.
Here is a difficulty that we have. Dr. Delgado Rosa has mentioned the funding that is allocated and put aside for biodiversity in various aspects of the EU budget. The European Commission has just signed off on Ireland's CAP strategic plan, which is due to run until 2027. The eco schemes are not geared towards the rewetting or restoration of farmland. How specifically does Dr. Delgado Rosa expect member states to fund what might be voluntary programmes for example? Would he expect them to do it out of Exchequer funding? Will there be dedicated European funds for this purpose?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
Before addressing the issue of the specific CAP plan I want to mention that there are at least a couple of Irish LIFE-funded projects that are rather successful. These include rewetting peatland, including 10,000 ha of peatland in the Irish midlands where production is maintained. When I say I do not know, I mean I do not know the exact situation of each farm or each tract of land in Ireland or elsewhere. What I am saying is that in some cases production is compatible, in other cases production will have to be changed and in other cases again, depending on the choices of member states, production could even be stopped from fully rewetting. In such a case it would be to address the benefits to the climate from other perspectives.
With regard to the CAP fund, in Ireland's case as far as I know the plan proposes the GAEC protection of wetlands and peatland to be applicable from 2024 onwards. This is the lead time required to define and map these areas. Ireland will set applicable practices for the standard and there are CAP strategic plan amendments. This is the understanding we have with Ireland. The approved plan already includes some examples of appropriate minimum standards to be applied. They include a ban on ploughing or the use of minimum till or no till cultivation techniques. As I said, wetland and peatland restoration is already tackled to a certain extent in the Irish CAP strategic plan. As far as I am informed, and as I have said previously, Irish targets already consider nature with regard to restoration and I hope the CAP strategic plan-----
I have approximately two minutes remaining and I have several specific questions. I ask the committee secretariat to furnish Dr. Delgado Rosa with the responses we received from the Minister and Department in respect of the GAEC regulations and the impact they would have on restoration. Their interpretation of what the parameters will mean sound very different from what Dr. Delgado Rosa has said. It would be useful if we had the DG's view on this. I want to make a couple of points and I will come back in later if the Chair allows more time. Many of the lands we are speaking about were drained with European Union funding. Therefore, naturally, we will have farmers asking why at one point the EU provided them with financial support to carry out improvement works that allowed them to farm the land and remain in their communities but we are now at a point when an EU regulation might prevent the children from doing so in future. Does Dr. Delgado Rosa believe the European institutions need to take greater responsibility, particularly in terms of putting forward financial measures to recognise this fact?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
It has been said previously that the CAP has evolved. When it started, not that long after the Second World War, the overriding need was to ensure more food production. Societal needs and expectations with regard to agriculture have been evolving. CAP money is taxpayers' money. Taxpayers expect the funding of agriculture to provide for landscape, nature and biodiversity along with healthy food. The evolution of the CAP has been very noticeable over several iterations. We now have specific CAP objectives on biodiversity, climate and soil. These are rather different from what was in the first version of the CAP. This is the explanation as such. The money for this is there. It is CAP money. It is being tilted towards the adoption of measures that deliver production, and even more resilient production, while, given the situation with the environment in the EU and the world, avoiding any harmful subsidy that would pay for production-----
I am out of time and I have one more question. I will say this with regard to this point. Rather than this being an evolution of CAP I would compare it to a situation whereby a local authority provided a business with a grant to build an extension and a number of years later issued it with an order to demolish that very same extension.
I have a question on policy. From whatever position someone comes at this regulation, the truth is that it will remove what is at present productive agricultural land in Europe. It would be useful if we heard from the DG as to whether it sees a contradiction in pursuing such a regulation while the European Union is proceeding at speed with trade agreements, including the Mercosur trade agreement, which would permit up to 100,000 tonnes of additional beef coming from farms that are on the spot where the Amazon rainforest was previously cited. Does Dr. Delgado Rosa see the frustration this will inevitably lead to in many of the communities that may be negatively impacted if this regulation is not right?
Just to say, if I may, what we are speaking about are family farms, predominantly in the west of Ireland, that are the lifeblood of their local communities. Language is important when we are speaking about these matters.
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
I was referring to infrastructure and not to people. We do not propose to remove people from anywhere or to disallow families to live. On the contrary, the flexibility provided allows us to maintain every family with their own production. There are avenues to pay income from other sources, including carbon to give an example. No, we are not removing people. I gave the example of demolition, which is what Deputy Carthy referred to.
On the issue of removing productive land I will give an example. There is a target in the biodiversity strategy and the CAP to have some land on a farm and in the wider state as a biodiversity landscape feature. Such pieces of land are not productive in themselves but they bring a wider benefit, including for productivity. In the wider sense, a farm that has stone walls, trees or ponds as needed will also benefit from what nature brings in. The nature restoration law does not aim to put people or the economy aside just to reap the rewards of more nature coming in.
We know of the discussions on Mercosur. My understanding is that the trade agreements we are negotiating or renegotiating have increased standards on the environment and sustainability, with the final goal, as expressed in the green deal, to have the same standards for the products we use in the EU that are produced internally and externally. Although understanding the concerns, I think that trade is an instrument for the greater good and it will become more relevant to take sustainability into account.
I thank the director for joining us and giving us some insight. However, I am somewhat disappointed by the level of detail given in the slides. DG Environment obviously has significant detail on which the presentation was based, so I had been hoping for more detail in it, but we are where we are. In fairness, the director and his colleagues are probably doing a reasonable job in trying to sell it in that he is telling us the directorate is not preaching to member states and it is up to each member to come forward with its own proposals that are legally binding. At the same time, as many members have told the director, this has caused a large amount of disquiet and anxiety.
I am conscious of time and I wish to home in on the section on drained peatland under agricultural use, because that primarily affects me. I come from Longford, where we have paid a massive price for just transition. We have seen the escalation and the fast-forwarding of decarbonisation in the midlands with the closure of a number of peat-fired power stations, the closure of commercial peat harvesting, and the loss of several hundred well-paying, significant jobs that were the bedrock of these communities for 50 years. Around that a nucleus of small farms has built up. These farms were in the main harvested out of the bogs. I am sure the directorate officials are familiar with the 1990 film "The Field" starring Richard Harris. This proposal or law is bringing hundreds of Richard Harrises to the fore because there are families who have spent generations building up this land and have cultivated it from bog. There are people farming the land who do not realise until they start looking at maps that their land has come from what was peatland and they are looking at a scenario where this is going to be rewetted. I acknowledge and commend the officials on saying we have gone some way down the road with rewetting in this country. Bord na Móna has ambitious plans for the decommissioning and rehabilitation of 30,000 ha of peatland across the country that was previously commercially farmed peatland. That is significant in itself.
To focus on Longford, at the moment we farm 73,000 ha of land. I had hoped the directorate's presentation would tell me specifically just how much of that land is to be considered drained peatland under agricultural use. The numbers are very startling: 30% of that land must be rewetted by 2030, 50% by 2040 and 70% by 2050. Even if we take it conservatively, a third or 40% of that 73,000 ha of current farmland is peatland. That is an enormous shift.
I will move to questions because I want to give the officials time to answer. I will home in on one of the points raised by Deputy Carthy on the socioeconomic implications of this. It is astonishing we would look at something like this at EU level without doing that. I echo what Deputy Fitzmaurice said about community. We are not just looking at rewetting peatland here. These are generational farms, as I said. Grandparents and great-grandparents started the cultivation and harvesting of what we know as traditional farmland out of what was peatland. Sons, daughters and whole communities grew up around them. I am aware the directorate says it is not about displacing people, but if we rewet John Murphy's land, it is almost inconceivable there are not going to be consequences for the adjacent houses in the area. We are already seeing it with the River Shannon, where we are struggling in some communities. We are buying out landowners because we cannot guarantee their lands are not going to flood. It is similar with the Bord na Móna scenario we have at the minute. Bord na Móna cannot, hand on heart, give genuine reassurance to many landowners about the implications of rewetting and exactly how it is going to impact their areas.
On the socioeconomic implications, the officials have said it is their view that, whatever they have done at this stage, they do not intend to do any more, but surely there must be some mechanism for a country like ours to give the scale of the implications of what DG Environment is proposing? If we look at Longford, I am aware of two secondary schools that were built on what was traditional peatland. If we were to follow through on the argument of this, those two schools are going to have to be rewetted. If we are going to rewet the schools, we are obviously coming within town boundaries. This will have huge implications for county development plans and where people live and work in rural Ireland.
In some respects, I probably agree with some of the spirit of what the directorate is trying to achieve here but sometimes it wants people to run and move too fast. My region is paying a huge price. We embrace the challenges we have with the climate targets, but we have had an escalation in decarbonisation. We have been brought forward ten years down that road. More than any region in Ireland, we have paid the price. I ask the officials to come back to me because I am not satisfied with the answer on the socioeconomic implications. In tandem with that, I ask them to give me some indication of the risk analysis the directorate has done. I imagine it has done some of that. Bord na Móna tells us it has done some planning and provision on what will happen with the 33,000 ha based on current rainfall, exceptional rainfall and the geographic changes that are going to come.
This is an obvious question, and I know the answer the officials are going to give me, but what if we decide to ignore the law? It will have huge cost implications for the country.
Those are my three questions. I ask the directorate to come back to me on the socioeconomic implications, what it has done in terms of risk analysis, and what happens if a country chooses to ignore the nature restoration law.
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
First of all, I send forth sympathy for the cause as I can also express empathy and sympathy for those who feel concerns on this issue, such as the generations of farmers the Deputy referred to. There is an issue of managing expectations here. The Deputy said he had expected a greater level of detail from my presentation, but I planned for ten minutes and presenting a full regulation in ten minutes would always be squeezed. However, even if I had had much more time, the Deputy could not expect from my presentation comment on what specific land in Ireland would or would not be subject to restoration measures because that is an Irish competence. That is the main point of what I am saying. We provide a lot of flexibility through our regulation. We provide the types of habitats on which restoration will be binding, but how much, precisely where, how and with what funding are fully a national competence.
To go directly to the socioeconomic implications, if I am not wrong it is the Irish Climate Action Plan 2021 that aims at a target of 24%, if my figures are correct, of drained peatland under agricultural use to be rewetted for climate purposes. The draft plan for 2026 goes in the same direction, and the Ag Climatise roadmap refers, if my figures are not wrong, to something like 12%. To put it precisely, what we are proposing in the nature restoration law is 30% of drained peatland under agricultural use by 2030, with just one quarter of it to be rewetted, and for 2050 that is 70%, only half of which is to be rewetted, plus whatever flexibility clauses the members states may wish to apply. The socioeconomic implications for specific agricultural areas are fully a national competence to define. We do not have the figures, the means, the capacity or indeed the responsibility. It falls within subsidiarity. No impact assessment could be done at EU level on the top of the iceberg to go into the detail of every single parcel of land. This is the topic, basically, of subsidiarity.
The Deputy rightly referred to what Bord na Móna is doing on past peat extraction cases. Bord na Móna has become a very good example of extraction to restoration and using the just transition funding. In many sectors we are facing the costs of transition. I can fully understand that. If my family was in coal mining for generations, then it has an impact when somebody tells you that you must stop and do something different because of the climate.
We are not at the stage where we are saying we must stop farming because of the climate but we are saying that on some kinds of soil, there is a public advantage to considering rewetting, part of which is compatible production but maybe not. There is an economic and public benefit that can be used to support the transition and maybe bring in other socioeconomic activities. I gave carbon farming as an example. I have empathy for the concerns. I can certainly imagine myself as a farmer whose land was in my family for generations doing a certain activity and feeling the fear that that someone will question what I do. Whether it is questionable will depend on national planning on that specific plot. I can fully understand that in some cases, the best option will be to maintain the activity and address peatland elsewhere, for example, peatland-extensive sites. I may be repeating myself but it is the essence of the regulation and that is what I can bring to the committee as testimony.
I appreciate that Dr. Delgado Rosa only had a short period of time in which to do the presentation. If he could he share any of the back-up material with the committee, it would be a huge help. We would see ourselves as slightly distinct from the rest of Europe in that we are an island nation surrounded by water so Dr. Delgado Rosa can understand why in respect of rewetting, people here can get very alarmed that we will have water coming at us from outside and from within. It is within that context that people are most alarmed that there does not seem to be a greater sense of research and scoping the full implications of this.
The fact that we are an island nation gives us a unique status in the European picture, in that we do not have a landmass beside us and are very much a stand-alone nation. In respect of the arbitrary guidelines, recommendations and targets given by Dr. Delgado Rosa, as he said, the voluntary approach has worked well. Surely there must be an opportunity and scope for a country to say these targets are unworkable for us given the unique set of circumstances we have here. Could Dr. Delgado Rosa respond to that?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
We can share the studies and the list of references we have used in our impact assessment that pertain to peatland or specifically to Ireland. I do not have them to hand but we can give this committee whatever we have.
On Ireland's situation, Ireland is not the only island nation. Are there island nations with no peatland? The answer is probably "Yes" but I remind the committee that the Netherlands has a huge amount of drained peatland under agricultural use and a good part of its territory beneath sea level. I can understand how rewetting as a concept can look like a threat but I again remind the committee that rewetting seems to be an Irish option on Irish plans for climate and for agriculture, so when we table some rewetting for the nature restoration law, we are not fully innovating. We are adding something coherent with other plans on climate, including those plans Ireland apparently is following. There must be a way to deal with rewetting without putting it at odds with communities and that puts forward the wider benefits for all.
I welcome the director to the meeting and thank him for his presentation and for answering our questions. When we talk about rewetting, we are talking about returning land to a state in which it was in the past. In Ireland, we are talking principally about marginal land that would have been drained in the past half century. We are probably not talking about other lands. That is where most of our peaty soils are. Something that has come up in our parliamentary discussions and various committee discussions in the past number of years is the Arterial Drainage Act. I do not know if it is something the director has looked at because it is Irish legislation. The Act was introduced in the 1940s principally as a labour activation measure at a very difficult time in this country. It brought marginal land into agricultural use. Prior to that, a lot of that land would not have been used for agricultural purposes. What we are looking at now is possibly restoring some of that land - I will not say a lot of it because that work needs to be done and we will have the land use review. The initial phase of it will be presented at the end of this year. Is the director still with us?
As I understand it, that legislation on the Irish Statute Book was primarily a labour activation measure but it brought marginal land - much of which consisted of peaty soils, which we now know emit carbon - into agricultural use. I do not want to say it involves a lot of that land. It would be premature to say so because we do not yet have the output of the land use review. That will be done at the end of this year. It seems that this legislation mandated the State to drain a lot of our marginal land, which was peaty. We need to look again at this and there needs to be a review of this legislation. I do not know if Dr. Delgado Rosa has looked at it or if the Directorate-General for Environment, DG ENV, would look at Irish legislation in any detail but this is the main legislation that over the past 50 or 60 years has caused a lot of our land to be drained and, therefore, become an emitter of carbon rather than a store of it. Notwithstanding the emissions caused by the drainage of this land, it is an economic burden on the State. Every year, a lot of money is spent by the State to drain this land. Has the director looked at the Arterial Drainage Act? Is it on his radar at all?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
Not at my level and I doubt it is at my colleagues' level because it seems to be rather specific national legislation. In any case, it does illustrate what the Deputy said with regard to what were past priorities.
I am sure that when that legislation was done in the 1940s, bringing marginal land into production was a must, for whatever reason. There has been the evolution in the situation of the country, of the climate and the whole global situation that can require a need to revisit past legislation and to refine present objectives. We know more nowadays than probably was known in the 1940s on just how precious these ecosystems are for current purposes, including climate.
I thank the director. I met Dr. Delgado Rosa in Brussels just a few weeks ago, when we discussed this very issue. One of the things I remember him saying in that discussion was that, up to 2040, a lot of the requirements for draining peatlands could be met by areas that were perhaps already afforested or other types of drained peatlands. I mistakenly thought that meant 50% but, of course, it actually means 30%, and Dr. Delgado Rosa clarified today that it is just exclusively up to 2030 that the requirements from this proposed regulation would apply. That is a very important point that I will come back to shortly. The requirements could be met by looking at our drained peatlands and peaty lands under afforestation, if the Government were to decide to do that.
This is a draft regulation. It is important that we recognise this is not a final document and it will be shaped by the Parliament and the Council over the next period. I think that is where there can be influence, and perhaps the final document may not be the same document that we have here - in fact, it will not be, but how different it will be remains to be seen.
What countries objected to this draft proposal when it was put forward in the public domain? Are those countries still maintaining objections? Which are they and are they still maintaining them?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
I thank Deputy Harkin for reminding me that we had the occasion to meet with Irish farmers some weeks ago in Brussels. I can reconfirm the figures. It is, of course, a national option but, for sure, these targets of 30% restoration by 2030 on drained peatlands, a quarter of which should be rewetted, could be obtained by using non-agricultural land, depending on Irish choices. I am not sure about the target up to 2050, which is for 70% rewetted, but for sure, for 2030 and in some areas up to 2040, it is, as I said, an Irish decision because the flexibility is ingrained within the proposal.
The Deputy is right that, of course, the final outcome of whatever is the legislation is always different to what the Commission proposed. We propose but we do not decide; it is the Parliament and the Council that decide in the negotiations, of which we also are a part.
With regard to objections, let me remind the Deputy that the call for binding targets for restoration came from the Council - several Council conclusions related to climate and biodiversity actually called for that - and from the Parliament. There are many decisions that originated from the Parliament requesting binding measures with regard to several kinds of ecosystems. In that sense, we have followed requests by those co-legislators.
With regard to member state objections, as far as I am informed, there is no member state with a formal position of fully objecting to the proposal. All member states have some concerns, observations or questions to be raised on, say, article X or article Z, but I do not have to hand the full list of what is each member state’s position on each aspect. Of course, for some, draining peatlands is an issue and, for others, marine restoration is an issue.
I asked a straightforward question as to what countries raised objections and if those objections are still standing. From Dr. Delgado Rosa's response, can I assume that a number, maybe even a significant number, of member states have raised concerns about different articles in the regulation and, obviously, they still stand? If I am not correct, Dr. Delgado Rosa can come back to me on that.
Therefore, as far as Dr. Delgado Rosa knows, Ireland did not raise specific objections on this proposal. If he would come back with a further word on that, when he has had a look at it, I would be delighted.
I want to ask about the impact assessment. It has been done at European level but Dr. Delgado Rosa mentioned the Netherlands, which is another example, and there is also Finland, Sweden and Ireland, although, in many ways, they are not typical of much of the land across the EU. The impact assessment looks at the entire EU, which is a crucial aspect because this legislation will impact some member states quite significantly, not just Ireland. It is simply good legislation when everything is informed by a proper impact assessment. I have not read it but I will. My concern is that it is not detailed enough. Is it detailed enough? Does it look at the overall impact, not just on specific member states or specific regions? Is there enough there so that member states can be satisfied that the impact assessment that the Commission has carried out and is standing over is such that they can be satisfied that the overall impact on agriculture and other aspects of this legislation will not be negative?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
Yes, member states can be reassured that we have done a very solid assessment. Let me state one issue. We do look to the entire EU but we have looked at two specific ecosystem types. We often hear “Yes, my country has more of this than others”, which is true, for instance, with regard to peatlands, not only in Ireland but in Germany, which has the largest amount, and Poland, which has the second largest, and we know about the figures for the Netherlands, Finland and Ireland in this regard. However, if we then look to marine targets, of course I expect my own member state, Portugal, to have much more to do than Austria, which has no coast to begin with. Overall, it is relatively evenly spread with regard to the efforts that are required if we take into account the very different situation and the different ecosystem types in different member states. We do have figures, including on cost per capita, and we know that for some member states, it will be higher than others. At the same time, costs are costs but they are also investments in the sense that the benefits can also be higher when the country restores more. The Deputy should take a thorough look through the impact assessment. In case of any doubt, we have this to provide a reference.
I will do that.
I have two final points. Dr. Delgado Rosa talked about consultation. I spent 15 years in the European Parliament and I know how it works. There is no consultation on the percentage of areas and that is already decided, the targets are there and we know where the drained peatlands are, so there is no consultation on that. There will be a lot of box ticking and there will be meetings but at the end of the day, the decisions that are already in place are really what will stand.
There was comment from a number of colleagues here today about putting people off land. Dr. Delgado Rosa quite rightly said that is not the Commission's intention and I agree with him, but the truth is that it will be the outcome of this legislation in certain areas and certain places. A significant percentage of Irish drained peatland will be rewetted and that means that in those areas, we are looking at people not being able to stay on the land. There will be no Commission official waving a document at somebody but it will be the outcome in certain places. Dr. Delgado Rosa is a European citizen and so am I.
Many European citizens are concerned about this. We need to be fair and reasonable and not say that none of this will impact people who are already farming or put people off land because it actually will. Dr. Delgado Rosa knows that as well as I do.
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
Yes, there are societal changes and expectations that will impact many sectors, including fisheries, agriculture, forestry, infrastructure and energy. All of these will be impacted by the transformative change that is needed to deal with climate change. However, there is one thing I can tell the Deputy. First, if you take out the nature restoration law as such, you will still have to tackle the rewetting issue as a result of other targets, including Irish targets. Second, what I am saying is that no one will need to be put out of anything. It depends on the member states' decisions because there is wide room for flexibility, including for Ireland, with regard to their specific situations. I therefore do not think that we are putting people at risk. We are concerning people. I understand that. All transitions and transformations bring change and difficulties. That is why the just transition concept is included in the European Green Deal.
On consultations, when the Commission proposes anything, we are obliged to consult the public. We consult-----
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
The majority of public opinion supported a nature restoration law. Finally, we have put in provisions such that member states must consult the public. Furthermore, Deputy Harkin will know that there is something called the Aarhus Convention, which provides a lot of legal assurance with regard to public consultation overall.
Before the director leaves, I have two minor comments which he might respond to if he possibly could. We have several targets, some of which arise from the regulations the director has brought forward. The afforestation targets are very important for us. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine famously said in recent months that the 8,000 ha per year will be a very challenging target to reach. Does Dr. Delgado Rosa believe that bringing forward this regulation will have an impact on our attempts to ensure those afforestation targets are reached? It is really important to us that we get our afforestation programme back up and running. Does he believe the proposals will be hampered by the issue of confidence in the sector? This sector runs on confidence. There are people looking in on this debate today who want to know how they can play a role in addressing this climate change challenge. Does Dr. Delgado Rosa believe confidence will be a factor in what is happening in respect of the forestry sector, particularly what has been discussed over the last two hours? What role does he believe the forestry sector will play? What effect will this proposal have on ensuring the forestry sector reaches its really important targets, which it is floundering to reach at the moment?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
I thank the Vice Chairman for bringing attention to the forest and forestry sector. The first point I will make is that there is a new EU forest strategy to run to 2030. It aims to respond to the fact that societal expectations regarding forestry nowadays relate more to climate and biodiversity as well as the bioeconomy. If we go back some decades, the main outcome we wanted from forestry was probably timber. Now we want timber along with the rest, that is, carbon sinks and biodiversity. The forestry strategy is tuned towards capturing the win-wins on several grounds. It does not go into detail but suggests some approaches to sustainable forestry management and forestry practices that focus on the win-wins for climate, biodiversity and wood and non-wood products from the forests. In that sense, much of what is in the pipeline for reshaping EU forests is not coming from the nature restoration law as such but from other documents that precede it. The nature restoration law is fully compatible with what is being done in the forest strategy, in the land use, land use change and forestry, LULUCF, regulation I referred to and in the upcoming forest monitoring law that is in preparation. To repeat what I said earlier, for forestry ecosystems in general, as opposed to those that are protected, we propose a positive trend of certain indicators. These indicators are not only related to biodiversity and climate. They are more related to forest resilience. They increase the resilience of forests. Increasing the resilience of forests amounts to favouring the production of forests. On afforestation in Ireland, there is nothing in the nature restoration law that predetermines what Ireland will do on afforestation. As I referred to before, we have some concerns and we have been discussing some types of afforestation with Ireland. I refer mainly to Sitka spruce afforestation, which is of questionable benefit from the angle of climate and carbon storage on some habitats or lands because peatland is the best form of storage there is. We are maintaining a dialogue on this with Ireland but the choice of afforestation option is Ireland's and can be fully tackled in harmony with the nature restoration law.
As a pro-European politician, is Dr. Delgado Rosa worried about how the European Union will be judged on this proposal, particularly in rural parts of Ireland, and whether this regulation might inflame certain political codes regarding where the European project is going? Has he looked into it or is he concerned about where this proposal could go with regard to the European project, which is a very important project for Ireland? There may be a sense that this is a step too far. Does Dr. Delgado Rosa believe it will cast the European project in an unfavourable light?
Dr. Humberto Delgado Rosa:
I thank the Vice Chairman for the very interesting question. Overall, there is widespread support among the majority of the public for the measures from the European Green Deal, including the nature restoration law and many others as we have captured in the public consultations and Eurobarometer surveys we carry out. That does not preclude the possibility that support for these measures is not evenly distributed. It is very obvious that, on several issues - it is not only nature policy, climate policy is also an example - there is a rural-urban divide, especially in some areas of Europe. This is, of course, a cause for concern. We need to broach views and achieve consensus, particularly on things that are relevant to rural communities, which is not necessarily where most voters are. An understanding of the divide between more urban society and more rural society is needed. We understand that these proposals can be used for scaremongering among rural communities when there is no reason for it. There may be reason for concern or caution or for drawing attention to particular needs but we see people saying that all agricultural land will be flooded or that we are aiming to transform one country or another into a nature reserve. That is one kind of scaremongering but, if you dig into our proposals, you see these are not their aims at all. They aim to bring society towards a better world with no one left behind. We know that it will not be an easy transition. As an individual, I do have a concern about this divide. We try, as much as we can, to explain, to listen, to learn and to very humbly come up with the best proposals we can.
I thank the director and his staff for the very informative discussion over the last two hours. It has been very informative for members of the committee. This is a debate that will continue at a later day. I thank the director very much for dialling in. It has been a good opportunity to discuss a very important issue.
On behalf of the committee, I thank the director and his staff for their contributions this evening. The meeting will now conclude. The next meeting will be held in public on Wednesday, 25 January 2023, at 5.30 p.m. The agenda will be to examine forestry policy and strategy. As there is no other business, the meeting stands adjourned.