Europe’s biodiversity continues to decline. This also concerns wetland ecosystems: 80 percent of European wetlands have been lost in the last 100 years. Throughout most of human civilisation, wetlands have been considered ‘unproductive land’ and were drained for agricultural purposes and urbanisation. As a consequence, wetlands, including bogs, mires and fens, are now among the most degraded ecosystems in Europe. They are essential in tackling the triple crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution – if managed well. Without existing EU legislation, member countries would be further away from reaching the 2030 climate and biodiversity targets. Nevertheless, there is a need for more effective measures to achieve wetland restoration, both at EU and national level.

Header photo: a kingfisher in a wetland area in the Netherlands. © Kenny Goossen via Unsplash

Analysis of EU environmental policy

As part of REWET, IUCN NL conducted an analysis of and developed recommendations for EU environmental policy related to wetland restoration. The policy brief underscores the importance of translating global policies into national legislation and local actions to restore healthy wetlands for the generations to come. Political will, financial resources, local and regional stakeholder involvement and policy coherence at various government levels, and across all sectors, are critical enabling factors for successful wetland restoration.

Recommendations to EU Member States for healthy wetlands

Without existing EU legislation, such as EU evaluations (fitness checks) for the Nature Directive, the water and nitrates directives and the evaluation of the EU 2020 biodiversity strategy, member countries would be further away from reaching the 2030 climate and biodiversity targets. Nevertheless, there is a need for more effective measures to achieve wetland restoration, both at EU and national level.

The REWET analysis led to the following key recommendations:

  • Strong international and national incentives are required to enable the break with business-as-usual development scenarios.
  • To effectively tackle the biodiversity, climate and pollution crises, environmental policies must be seen as an integral part of policies on trade, finance, energy, water, agriculture, infrastructure and spatial planning. Therefore, coherence with other major EU policies is essential (and one of the key objectives of the Green Deal).
  • Policies need to consider the multiple benefits of wetland restoration, such as climate change mitigation, disaster risk reduction, water security and pollution control. These values could incentivise companies to develop and implement wetland policies.
  • Member states should develop a more coordinated approach towards the implementation of environmental policies, as they often have decentralised the responsibility to implement (or even develop) environmental policies to provincial or district level. Decentralisation may affect the level and pace of implementation, depending on budget, capacities and political will, and hinder the progress of wetland restoration. Moreover, wetlands depend on river basins that often go beyond provincial or district level.
  • Transformative change requires policy makers to establish financial incentives, strengthen environmental policy and laws to reduce unsustainable agricultural development, build capacity and enhance cross-sectoral cooperation, taking pre-emptive and precautionary action to increase sustainability at the catchment scale.
  • Involve a wide array of local stakeholders in wetland restoration, including citizens, businesses, politicians and NGOs.

About REWET

REWET is a laboratory for the restoration of wetlands at European scale. In the REWET project, funded by the European Union, NGOs, universities, companies and institutions joined forces to study the full potential of wetland areas. With information from seven open laboratories, we are developing a comprehensive understanding of how European wetlands can best contribute to climate mitigation and adaptation.

More information? Contact:

Caspar Verwer
Senior Expert Nature Conservation
Maxime Eiselin
Senior Expert Nature-based Solutions