The German Forest Days, which started on Friday (18 September), are intended to draw attention to the fact that forests are threatened by climate change. At the same time, Berlin and Brussels are developing strategies to protect them. EURACTIV Germany reports.
“Forests under climate stress” is the motto of the German Forest Days, being held for the third time. Indeed, German forests have been under ‘stress’ at least since the drought summer of 2018.
The area of damaged forest in Germany now totals 285,000 hectares, which is more than the area of the Saarland, the agriculture ministry announced a month ago. The federal government previously estimated the figure to be 245,000 hectares.
This has a noticeable impact on the climate since the forest is the largest natural storage of CO2. It is not without reason that the European Commission decided in its impact assessment for the new 2030 climate goals published on Thursday to include the effects of land use in future calculations.
In Germany, the CO2 emissions saved by forests account for between six and 14% of total greenhouse gas emissions. In 2014, Germany’s environment agency still estimated storage capacity of 53 million tonnes of CO2, while the agriculture ministry upped the figure to 127 million tonnes.
However, rising temperatures are bringing hazards such as forest fires or bark beetles, while the storage capacity of forests also decreases. In the hot summer of 2018, the drought caused vegetation to absorb as much as 18% less carbon dioxide, scientists from the European Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Network (ICOS) reported last week.
‘Tree premiums’ are difficult to implement
For this reason, measures to protect forests are currently being debated at both the German and European level. But progress is slow.
Yesterday, representatives of the Association of Forest Owners (AGDW) protested in front of the Bundestag and demanded that the CO2 performance of trees be financially recognised.
“In view of the enormous CO2 storage capacity of our forests, it is only fair that this performance should be given a prize,” said Max von Elverfeldt, chairman of the family-owned company Land und Forst. “After all, as the largest carbon sink, forestry is the number one stakeholder in climate protection,” he added.
Such a “tree premium” has been under discussion for some time, and according to information from daily newspaper TAZ, the government is currently working on a concept which would, as of next year, award a premium of €125 per hectare of forest given that each hectare captures an average of five tonnes of CO2 per year.
Up to €1.5 billion could be generated in this way. The premiums are to be financed from the revenues of the new CO2 price in the building and transport sectors, meaning that if the price rises there, the tree premium would also increase.
For years, politicians have repeatedly called for a forest premium. Among others, North Rhine-Westphalia’s Prime Minister Armin Laschet (CDU), and federal Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU), have spoken out in favour of it.
But criticism has come from Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD). While Schulze told the Westfalenpost newspaper that she supports such a model in principle, she also said that she “does not yet know of a mature model for a tree premium. It sounds simple, but it is not.”
For example, it is still unclear what happens when the trees are felled and wood is burned. “Does the premium have to be paid back?” she asked.
Green politician Harald Ebner has also criticised the German government for not having an effective concept to combat the forest crisis and for allowing billions to be squandered through ineffective or even forest damaging programmes. “This year’s Forest Days are days of mourning,” he said.
Forest strategy and supply chain law on the way
The European Parliament also discussed forest protection this week. However, its main focus was on forests in third countries being cleared to make way for agricultural and commercial activities.
By contrast, the EU’s forest area which currently covers 42% of the EU’s land area, is expected to remain stable or grow sligthly, with as much as 11 million hectares of forest added between 1990 and 2010, according to the European Commission.
But the Commission must do more to promote sustainable forest management and protect biodiversity, according to a non-binding resolution adopted by a large majority of MEPs on Tuesday.
In parallel, German MEP Delara Burkha is working on an initiative report for a European supply chain law that would ban the clearing of tropical rainforests for European consumer goods.
In the future, companies are to pay fines if trees have been cleared for their products and services or if the local population’s rights of use have been violated, according to Burkhardt’s report.
The European Commission is also working on a forest strategy for the rainforest, which could be presented as early as the first quarter of 2021.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]