While Europe is doing relatively well compared to the "alarming rate" of global deforestation, "the relative stable status of forest recovery in Europe can not be taken for granted," said Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, unveiling an EU Green Paper on forest protection and climate change yesterday.
Setting out the main challenges facing Europe's forests, the paper stresses the environmental functions and ecosystem services of forests. These include protecting soil, regulating freshwater supplies and conserving biodiversity. It also highlights the role of forests as regulators of local and regional weather and their contribution to climate change mitigation (as carbon sinks).
The document launches a public stakeholder consultation to help the EU executive to find out whether forest protection requires more attention, and if so, how and at what level this should be done.
While forest policy is primarily a national competence and "subsidiarity is an important issue when talking about forests," climate change is a joint issue and "we should reconsider the role each of us locally, nationally and at EU level could play in this context," Potočnik argued.
Climate change has also been evoked as a reason to revive an EU directive on soil protection, as soils are seen as crucial for storing CO2 (EurActiv 10/02/10).
In order to respect national competences, the Commission notes that debate on the Green Paper should focus on how climate change is modifying forest management and protection in Europe and how EU policy should evolve to enhance its contribution to national initiatives.
"There is increasing concern about the continued loss of biodiversity despite advances in protected areas," while demand for the recreational and amenity services of forests is growing, Potočnik said, listing the key challenges posed by climate change.
In addition, forests are expected to play a key role in achieving EU renewable energy targets, "putting new and traditional demand on forest productivity," he said, before noting that the challenges are taking place "in the context of the recent slowdown of the expansion of Europe's forest area".
Towards an EU forestry directive?
Potočnik said the paper follows the Commission's 2009 White Paper on adapting to climate change. In addition, the EU forestry strategy is now over ten years old and "may no longer be able to fully respond to today's challenges" and the EU's Forest Action Plan expires next year, he explained, giving the EU executive's reasons for publishing the Green Paper.
The commissioner said back in January that based on the Green Paper consultation and existing proposals on adapting to climate change, the Commission would be in a position to decide whether there is a need for an EU Forest Directive (EurActiv 14/01/10).