“The member states of the European Union protect land that is in reality little threatened by economic development”

LThe European Parliament adopted the Nature Restoration Act on February 27. Its objective is to “restoring ecosystems for people, climate and planet”. Concretely, the law aims to protect 30% of the territory of the European Union (EU). This may seem like a large proportion, but this goal is actually easily achievable, as the Union is home to enough undeveloped land to qualify as “natural”!

The trade-off between ecological gains and economic costs of protection actually favored the goal of minimizing economic losses (Tristan Earle Grupp, Prakash Mishra, Mathias Reynaert and Arthur Van Benthem, “An evaluation of protected area policies in the European Union”, Draft n° 1490, Toulouse School of Economics, 2023). Although the European Union’s plan seems ambitious, there is still much to do to protect nature…

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You should know that even before the law which has just been passed, EU member states had designated more than 25% of their territory as protected areas, in order to preserve species and habitats essential to the biodiversity of the EU. Europe and avoid an imminent biodiversity crisis. This protection effort began at the beginning of the 20the century, but took off in the 1980s.

An area equivalent to that of Portugal

Moreover, Europe has reversed itself considerably over the last century. The EU has gained an area of ​​forest equivalent to that of Portugal. Are these two facts linked? Have the protection efforts of Member States contributed to the greening of the territory of the European Union?

To answer this question, we have divided this territory into more than 100 million small businesses through a “grid” covering all member states. We measured the degree of greening in satellite images between 1985 and 2019 in each of these cases. We also used data on when and where protected areas were created.

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For each of the 100 million cases, we were therefore able to determine whether there was an increase in greenery after a case became part of a protected area. However, such a comparison does not reveal the effects of protection on the greening of the EU. It is possible that cases located outside of protected areas will also be dissented.

To get around this problem, we compare land in protected areas with areas that have never been protected and have similar land, soil and climate characteristics.

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