Deforestation is widely considered to be a key driver of global warming since tropical and other forests absorb CO2, thus mitigating the effects of emissions on the climate. But EU policymakers are struggling to define rules to keep trees standing.
It is a "major mistake" not to address the issue of forests in the EU's climate package, Swedish Liberal MEP Lena Ek said yesterday (10 September) during a meeting of the Parliament's Industry (ITRE) Committee.
Her comments were seconded by Irish Christian Democrat MEP Avril Doyle, responsible for shepherding a proposal to revise the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) through Parliament. Europe will have "no credibility" in international climate negotiations without some sort of forest-related policy framework, said Doyle, who wants to see the issue "stitched through" both the EU ETS and a separate proposal on 'effort sharing', which spells out member states' commitments to reduce CO2 emissions in sectors not covered by the ETS.
Mechanisms to prevent deforestation – by giving landowners EU ETS credits for leaving forests standing, for example – were not included in the Commission's climate proposals, put forward on 23 January. This was due to apparent difficulties related to measuring emissions from these sectors with accuracy.
But the issue was also not "on the radar screen" of officials working on the EU ETS proposal in the EU executive's environment service (DG Environment), Dr. Bernhard Schlamadinger, a consultant to the UNFCCC secretariat, the World Bank and the FAO, told EurActiv in November 2006 (EurActiv 30/11/06).
Increasing EU energy demand may be at least partly to blame for this apparent oversight.
A push to use biomass for biofuels in transport or in home heating means that forests, and the land on which they stand, have a higher and more immediate economic value if exploited for energy-related purposes than if left standing. The Commission attempted to address the issue in its 2006 Forest Action Plan (EurActiv LinksDossier). But environmentalists, and industries that use forests for non-energy purposes, are increasingly worried that Europe's energy thirst will put too much pressure on forests and that the non-binding action plan is too weak to prevent an overshoot.
Forests may also be far from the climate change 'radar screen' of European citizens. A new Eurobarometer survey on 'Europeans' attitudes towards climate change' highlights citizens' concerns about climate change without addressing the issue of forests at all.
At international level, parties to the 160 nation talks towards a successor deal to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2012, are faced with their own set of difficulties in forging an adequate international forest protection framework. Even environmentalists are wary of draft proposals to include forests in global carbon markets due to fears that they could backfire (EurActiv 22/08/08).