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Our programme goal:

To catalyse enabling conditions for ambitious policy change in the EU to protect and restore peatlands.

Our work focused on:
Putting the EU on track to deliver the NRL regulation, including targets on peatlands, in line with the ambition needed to mitigate Europe’s climate and biodiversity crises

What happened

By providing financial support to BirdLife Europe and joining a coalition of European civil society organisations working on the Nature Restoration Law (NRL), we supported strong advocacy efforts towards the European Council and Parliament to keep the level of ambition of the Law in line with the EU commitments under its Green Deal policy agenda. Meanwhile, through a targeted partnership with Corporate Leaders Group Europe, we were able to successfully mobilise the business community – a vital voice in the debate – to advocate for an ambitious NRL at the EU Parliament and Council levels. We were also able to forge a strong connection between the business community and our civil society partners, which has been maintained throughout the trilogue period where the Commission, Council and Parliament have been working together to finalise the Law.

Despite our efforts, the NRL became highly politicised as the European People’s Party (EPP) launched a public and negative campaign in the later stages of the process that put the Law in jeopardy. Our efforts shifted to amplifying collective business support for the Law in its entirety. While this was successful in ensuring the European Council and Parliament voted in favour of the NRL, the peatlands target, the original focus of our work, was originally removed from the Parliament’s position and weakened in the Council position. However, ensuring the NRL was not thrown out entirely meant we were able to keep the door open for improvements during the trilogue stage. Despite continued opposition during the trilogue phase of negotiations, the Council and Parliament finally reached an agreement on the NRL which did include language requiring Member States to take measures to revitalise peatlands; a significant success for ours and our partners’ peatland and environmental advocacy efforts.

Wins and losses

What worked

  • The European Council and Parliament voted in favour of the NRL – allowing it to move to the trilogue period where it is due to be finalised in 2024.
  • Working with Corporate Leaders Group Europe allowed us to mobilise a broad base of businesses to advocate for the NRL.
  • Mobilising business and civil society voices in favour of the NRL helped counter and drown out the voice of the EPP and ensure pressure remained high.
  • We were able to build strong collaboration between civil society and business partners.
  • We were able to connect civil society organisations in Brussels with global peatlands experts.

What didn’t work

  • The peatlands target (Article 9.4) originally proposed by the Commission was strongly opposed, debated and ultimately weakened in the final text.
  • We were unable to mobilise voices in key sectors, such as agriculture and forestry, in favour of the NRL. These voices became key in the final weeks of the debate.
  • We were unable to mobilise the business community to specifically advocate for peatlands.

What did we learn?

Building a base of partners, and knowing their strengths and weaknesses is vital: The success of this work came from core connections within the policy and business arenas brought to the table by our partners. By working with a strong coalition in Europe, we were able to strongly advocate for change within the EU Parliament, while our partners’ ability to tap into national-level connections and advocacy efforts tipped the balance in the final days of the discussions. Meanwhile, given the precarious narrative around nature restoration in Europe, we quickly identified the business community as an important voice and mobilising the business and investment sector proved effective. Through our partnership with Corporate Leaders Group Europe we were able to forge strong connections between progressive businesses and civil society organisations and develop a coordinated approach to advocacy. This proved particularly critical when the Law came under attack. However, the opposition – led by the European People’s Party – were very effective at mobilising key sectors, namely the agricultural and energy sectors to undermine the credibility of the Law. While we were able to mobilise progressive voices in the energy and food sector, we were unable to find similar voices in other critical sectors, such as agriculture and forestry, to counteract the negative messages being spread.

It takes time to get the business and investment community to take action on nascent topics: We were effective at engaging the business and investor community on the topic of nature restoration. However, we quickly identified peatlands to be a new topic for most and without a clear-cut business case for their restoration or established frameworks, it proved more difficult to build support within this community on peatlands specifically. This made us reliant on tackling peatlands as part of the wider nature agenda. However, in the two years we worked on peatlands we successfully helped raise peatlands restoration up the corporate agenda, and introduced the issue to investor groups, setting the groundwork for more action in the future.

Pinning a specific issue to a much wider piece of legislation poses challenges: We identified the NRL as the most critical legislation to aid peatlands restoration in Europe, but tying our programme strategy to seeing the Law passing as a whole posed challenges. Most of our partners were focused on the NRL overall. There were limited expert organisations on peatlands to draw from, and much of our own staff time went towards working on the wider nature agenda and not the peatland article specifically. And, ultimately when the legislation was in jeopardy, we chose to double down on ensuring it was voted for in its entirety. It was important for us to to shift our attention and advocacy efforts to the legislation more widely, and to challenging oppositional voices, countering them with progressive voices for nature, but it came at the cost of the peatlands target being removed from the Parliament’s initial position and being weakened by the Council. But, by ensuring the Law successfully moved to the trilogue period, the door was left open to a position on peatlands being re-negotiated during this phase of discussions.

Be aware of your opponents and their tactics: While we understood the influence of large farming lobbies in Brussels, and expected challenges from the EU Parliament’s Agricultural Committee, we underestimated the scale of the hostility that would arise around the NRL in the final months of the debate, and the very public nature of the attacks against the Law and its supporters. This led to a quick shift in tactics by us and our partners to being much more responsive to these attacks. And while we were still able to balance this with more positive messaging, it highlighted the need to understand and plan for as many potential threats as possible.

Putting our learnings into practice

Below are the policy opportunities and potential interventions that we think could have the most impact on peatlands protection and restoration as we transition out of this issue.

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