Nature restoration: Europe’s ports ask for a coherent and flexible framework to ensure port development and (re)building nature can go hand-in-hand
24 April 2023
The European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) very much welcomes the aim of enhancing biodiversity and preserving nature. ESPO therefore support the aims set out in the Nature Restoration Law, but believes this new proposal must act as a complement to existing EU legislation, rather than introducing another layer of complexity in nature restoration efforts. The proposal must avoid reinventing the wheel, and should provide some flexibility for ports and a level playing field on the European level.
Since ports are often located in or near different natural areas, ports strive to integrate the protection of biodiversity in all port operations, making it part of their license to operate. Ports have already demonstrated that port development and ecological transition towards better and more nature can go in hand.
As partners in realising the energy transition, Europe’s ports will need more physical space and a facilitating legislative framework to truly become hubs of renewable energies, and to be an enabler in the race to a Net-Zero Europe. Socioeconomic and strategic considerations must be viewed alongside the continued economic operations of the ports and nature restoration efforts.
ESPO’s initial views on the proposal are available here.
“Whereas we support the Commission’s intention to better protect nature, it is important to understand that developing the infrastructure in ports that is necessary for Europe’s much needed energy transition, and restoring nature can go hand in hand. Europe’s ports need a coherent, stable, and clear framework for nature restoration. Respect for existing well-functioning tools such as those of the Water Framework Directive is of paramount importance to succeed. Adding extra barriers and complexity could hinder the ports’ green development plans and hence the energy transition,“ says Isabelle Ryckbost, ESPO Secretary General.
Europe’s seaports have a long-standing experience of working with nature
ESPO member ports have long-standing experience working with the protection and restoration of natural areas, working with the legal and scientific processes set out in relevant EU legislation, especially the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). Together with the European Commission, ESPO has also developed guidance on the Habitats Directive. Different port good practices can be found here.
In addition to working closely with existing EU legislation, ports in Europe are going beyond legal requirements in their efforts to combine sustainable port operations with the promotion of biodiversity and habitat restoration.
Concerns regarding EP compromises on Article 4 and 5
The EP compromises for Articles 4 and 5 on restoration in coastal and marine environments respectively do not currently refer to the relevant EU legislation, specifically the Water Framework Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
In contrast to the Commission proposal, the EP compromise for Article 4 only leaves the possibility to apply the regime of the Habitats Directive. Crucially, the requirement of compensation now introduced in Art 4(8)c does not exist in WFD, where you only need to qualify exceptions from the requirements without engaging in mandatory compensatory measures. As a consequence, the Water Framework Directive would become irrelevant.
ESPO urges the EP rapporteur and MEPs in the responsible ENVI Committee to make sure that the Nature Restoration proposal is fully aligned with all relevant EU legislation, specifically the WFD. Since there seems to be no majority in the EP ENVI Committee to add “provided that the Member State concerned has adopted adequate compensatory measures”, ESPO would propose to delete this addition.
Strong support for the amendments calling for coherence and flexibility
Furthermore, ESPO strongly supports the following amendments that maintain coherence with EU legislation for the exceptions in Art. 4.8c: 851, 855, 856, 857, 860, 861, 862, 863, 864.
The WFD and MSFD also consider key socioeconomic aspects, allowing for the promotion and encouragement of renewable projects in combination with nature restoration efforts. ESPO welcomes that some mention of socioeconomic impacts is made in the draft EP compromises (Article 12(2)a (ja)), and underlines that these considerations must also form part of the operative Articles 4, 5 and 11. To this end, the following amendments tabled in the EP ENVI Committee should be reflected in the final EP compromises: 711, 736, 758, 759, 766, 848, 869-72, 875, 910, 920-21, 923.
The following amendments on the promotion of renewable projects and greater flexibility for ports should also be reflected in the final compromises: 1071-1073, 1080-81, 1084-5, 1119, 1126.
ESPO remains committed to help bring nature back in Europe through ambitious and workable measures aligned with existing legal and scientific processes.