Fine Gael cannot accept a proposed nature restoration law in its current form, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said, amid criticism from the Green Party about a rejection of the law by his political group.
A key part of pledges to limit climate change and stop a precipitous decline in wildlife, the proposed European Union legislation aims to protect at least 20 per cent of land and sea areas by 2030, but has run into stiff opposition.
This week Fine Gael’s centre-right European People’s Party withdrew from negotiations on the law in the European Parliament, an unusually strong expression of concern, citing potential effects on farmers and rural communities. Green groups and farmers held rival protests in favour and against the law in Brussels following the move.
Speaking on the sidelines of a summit of European leaders in Moldova, Mr Varadkar said that “any right-thinking person” would understand the need for a nature conservation and restoration law given the “phenomenal biodiversity loss” that has meant 97 per cent of all animals on earth by weight consist of humans “and what we eat”.
“We have to turn that around. But we also have to be realistic,” Mr Varadkar said. “The nature restoration law as currently drafted goes far too far.”
The Taoiseach raised concerns that the law would reduce the amount of land available for food production and cause food prices to rise, potentially affecting food security in the world’s poorest countries. In addition, he said it could make it harder for wind and solar farms to be built.
“That would actually make it harder for us to achieve what we’re trying to achieve,” Mr Varadkar said. “We’re not in a position to endorse the law as it’s currently proposed.”
The Green Party has been vehement in contesting such opposition to the law.
Minister of State Ossian Smyth said there had been “horrible conservative scaremongering” about the proposal and that he expected it to be a major topic of discussion between party leader Eamon Ryan and Mr Varadkar when they meet on Monday.
“The principle of it is that we would protect nature on a portion of European land and that we would find a way to compensate farmers and landowners for protecting nature and that it would be done on a voluntary basis,” the Green Party TD for Dún Laoghaire told RTÉ radio.
On Wednesday Green Party TD Brian Leddin told the Dáil that Fine Gael and Sinn Féin had “yielded to the interests of the few over the many” in regards to the law.
He accused politicians of “fighting to defend a broken system, a system of over-production and excessive intensification”.
Mr Varadkar clarified that while the EPP group that Fine Gael is part of in the European Parliament had pulled out of negotiations, the Government continued to engage in talks with other EU countries in a separate track of negotiations regarding the proposed law.