The European Commission has proposed a far reaching Nature Restoration Law and a 50% cut in pesticide use, to be implemented across all member states, including Ireland.
The Nature Restoration Law is the first such legislation to be proposed and would oblige member states to bring back nature to all ecosystems ranging from farming and forestry to marine and urban areas.
Legally binding targets will be set for EU countries who will have to draw up national Nature Restorations Plans.
These must aim to reverse the loss of pollinators, end the net loss of green urban spaces, increase biodiversity on farmlands allowing for species including butterflies and farmland birds, restore and rewet peatlands, restore marine habitats for native species and remove barriers to allow rivers flow naturally and freely.
European Union environment policy chief Virginijus Sinkevicius said the proposal on repairing habitats would require EU countries to take steps to restore nature to at least 20% of EU land by 2030 and all degraded ecosystems by mid-century.
Under the proposals, the use of chemical pesticides should also be cut by 50% by the end of this decade. They will be banned altogether in sensitive places such as public parks and protected areas.
A senior EU Commission official acknowledged studies showing that a significant drop in use of pesticides could lead to lower yields and higher food prices, but stressed that new techniques were now available which can effectively replace chemical pesticides without reducing agriculture output.
The rules on pesticides, if approved by EU governments, would replace the existing laxer law that the Commission said had been applied inconsistently across the EU.
Under the new regime, governments would have to submit regular reports on their progress towards the targets.
"Nothing can replace ecosystem services that the oceans provide, our soils or our forests," Mr Sinkevicius said in an interview about the proposal to restore nature, which would be the EU's first such law.
The proposed law lays down binding goals to increase farmland bird populations, reverse the decline of pollinators, and restore 25,000km of rivers to flow along their natural courses by 2030. Countries will have to produce national plans to contribute to the EU-wide aims.
Intensive farming, forestry and urbanisation are fuelling the degradation of natural habitats. Most of Europe's protected habitats and species have a negative conservation status, and a third of bee and butterfly species have declining populations.
The proposal on nature, which has been delayed twice, will need approval from the European Parliament and EU countries -some of whom have sought to delay or roll back sustainable farming measures, citing the Ukraine war's impact on global food supply.
Mr Sinkevicius said the global food crisis was caused entirely by Russia blocking the export of millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain. He warned that failing to stop the degradation of nature would ultimately diminish Europe's farming abilities.
"If we lose soil fertility, if soil erosion and degradation continue, that is going to be a major impact on our agricultural output," he said. Soil erosion already costs Europe around €1.2billion a year in lost agricultural production.
Economic activities like farming would not be banned on land where nature restoration measures are rolled out, under the EU law.
Additional reporting AFP