Paris - The European Union's executive arm unveiled groundbreaking environmental proposals Wednesday - a draft law that would halve the EU's pesticide use by 2030 - and work to restore its land, seas and rivers.
The draft legislation aims to restore 20% of Europe's degraded land and waterways within the next eight years - a measure the European Commission's Vice President Frans Timmermans says is vital for the region's future.
"We're proposing a law that would require all member states to restore nature," he said. "We need to repair 80% of our nature that's in bad shape and bring back to our cities, towns, forests, agriculture lands, seas lakes and rivers the nature that our citizens want and need."
Among other targets, the commission's proposal would halve the use of chemical and other hazardous pesticides by 2030 - and ban them completely in places like parks and playgrounds. It would restore 25,000 kilometers of rivers so they flow along their natural course.
Environmental groups have welcomed the proposals.
"The overall reaction is extremely positive," said Laura Hildt, a biodiversity policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau, a green umbrella nonprofit.
"We're really happy to see that the commission has come out with a strong proposal that really has the potential to bring back ecosystems that have been destroyed and to improve those that need it," she said.
Hildt and activists, however, say some areas need to be strengthened - including targets for marine restoration and for pesticide use.
"We have to make sure the principal that says that chemical pesticides must only be used as a last resort is properly applied," said European Environmental Bureau pesticide analyst, Eva Corral.
Behind the commission's proposals are scary statistics. One-third of Europe's bees and other pollinators are in decline, and one in 10 near extinction. Those species - along with healthy soils - are vital, not just for biodiversity, but for food production.
EU countries and the European Parliament still need to approve the draft legislation. Reports suggest some member states want them delayed or diluted, citing the Ukraine war's impact on food security.
But, according to Timmermans, the European Commission is pushing back.
"Using the war in Ukraine to water down proposals and scare Europeans into believing sustainability means less food is frankly quite irresponsible, because the climate and biodiversity crises are staring us in the face," he said.
The measures would support European farmers financially as they transition to more environmentally friendly practices. And the commission says they're just a first step toward building a more sustainable future for the bloc.