The EU’s nature restoration law will only work if it is enacted in partnership with farmers, a group of leading scientists has said, after months of protests have pushed the proposals to the brink of collapse.

In an open letter, leading biodiversity researchers from across the world said that efforts to restore nature are vital for guaranteeing food supplies – but farmers must be empowered to help make agriculture more environmentally friendly if the measures are to succeed.

The letter, signed by researchers from the University of Oxford, ETH Zurich and Wageningen University, reads: “At no point in history has there been more pressure on farmers. They are responsible for feeding an ever-growing population. And now we want them to save us all from the global climate and biodiversity crises, at the same time as market forces keep making the financial situation harder.

“We desperately need land to support a resilient agricultural sector. We need our policies to empower farmers to be the heroes we need them to be. But to do this, we are also going to need to save space for nature.

The EU’s nature restoration law, which has been two years in the making and aims to reverse the catastrophic decline of nature in the bloc, appears to be on the brink of collapse after months of farmers’ protests across Europe against some of the proposals. Several member states have withdrawn support for the legislation.

The EU was a leading voice at the Cop15 biodiversity negotiations in December 2022 where governments agreed to protect 30% of the planet for nature, repurpose billions of dollars of environmentally harmful subsidies and reduce pesticide use.

But the bloc has been unable to pass many of the targets into law, prompting warnings from Virginijus Sinkevičius, the European environment commissioner, that the EU would arrive at the biodiversity Cop16 in Colombia empty handed later this year, undermining its reputation as a reliable international partner.

World governments have never met a single target they have set for themselves to protect biodiversity – a trend that this decade’s agreement was meant to break.

“Policies like the EU restoration law could be vital as we strive to save nature, and secure agricultural productivity across Europe,” the open letter reads. “But these policies will only work if they are built alongside farmers. If governments can provide the right incentives, they can empower farmers to create a world where people and nature can thrive together.”

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