MEPs ‘far away’ from an agreement on merging forest and agriculture sectors under LULUCF

Parliament’s lead negotiator for the revision, Ville Niinistö, has criticised the idea of combining agriculture and forestry in the same system [European Parliament]

EU lawmakers working on revising the land use, land-use change and forestry regulation (LULUCF) are split over the European Commission’s idea to merge the sector with the agricultural industry in the 2030s.

In its proposed revision of the LULUCF regulation, the EU executive suggested that next decade, it should combine the agriculture sector with the existing system that tracks the removal of carbon from the atmosphere by natural structures, like forestry and peatlands.

Likewise, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) already identified agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) together in its special report on Climate Change and Land.

The Commission’s idea is that this new AFOLU sector would reach net zero emissions by 2035.

“For us, it makes so much sense to put all emissions and removals that are related to agriculture and forestry together, because all of these processes are so much related,” according to Christian Holzleitner, head of unit for land use and finance for innovation at the Commission’s department for climate action.

At a debate with European lawmakers about the revision, he pointed out how much fertiliser farmers put on soil impacts how much carbon removal is possible, as emissions and removals cannot be separated.

“All of that are natural processes. One year you will have removals, then the other year, you have emissions,” he pointed out.

But the Parliament’s lead negotiator for the revision, Finnish Ville Niinistö from the Greens, is strongly opposed to the idea. He told lawmakers that he sees no benefit in bringing non-CO2 emissions of agriculture into LULUCF.

“By doing so, a risk of hiding emissions from agricultural sector behind forests sinks would be established without incentives for the agricultural sector to decrease emissions,” he warned.

Other lawmakers in the Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) are also sceptical of the European Commission’s idea.

“We cannot tackle the forestry sector alone. We have to look at reductions in the agricultural sector. So this means that the forestry and agricultural sectors need to be treated completely separately,” said the leftist lawmaker working on the legislation, Manuel Bompard.

Meanwhile, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) lawmaker for the revision Delara Burkhardt said: “The effort sharing sector and the agriculture sector must bear their own responsibility to deal with these greenhouse gases, and there shouldn’t be any loopholes.”

EU plan puts spotlight on carbon sinks to tackle climate change

Europe will need to increase the amount of carbon stored by its forests and wetlands to meet a new, more ambitious target for carbon removals in Europe, according to a leaked policy draft seen by EURACTIV.

AGRI opposition

But the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest party in the European Parliament, supports the European Commission’s suggestion to combine these.

“I have my reservation when I look at his [Niinistö] draft report,” Christian-democrat MEP Norbert Lins told reporters on Monday (24 January).

Lins is responsible for drafting the position of Parliament’s agriculture committee (AGRI) on the legislation, sharing competencies on some text articles related to LULUCF.

According to Lins, combining or taking the emissions from the industry and agricultural forestry sector and achieving some balance among them is a good idea.

He proposed to follow the Commission’s logic and to have 295 million tons as carbon removal targets to bring forestry and land sectors together from 2031.

“We are far away from each other; I hope the cooperation will improve in the next weeks,” he said.

The European Commission, too, sees it as a way to drive emissions reductions in the agriculture sector and give a clear orientation for the next common agricultural policy.

“There are concerns that putting everything together may reduce the incentives for emission reductions from livestock, from fertilisers. This is not our view,” said Holzleitner.

According to the EU executive’s impact assessment, reaching climate neutrality in 2035 would see an increase of removals by around 20% and a reduction of the emissions from livestock and fertilisers by 20%, he explained.

Building up sinks to 2030

In the LULUCF proposal presented last year, the EU executive also suggested increasing the carbon captured by Europe’s land and forest sinks to 310 million tonnes by 2030.

That would require a considerable effort to reverse the current trend of decreasing sinks in Europe and is what Holzleitner called the ‘midpoint’ towards reaching the 400-500 million tonnes of annual net removals by 2050 foreseen by the Commission.

Seeing the woods: EU lays out plan to capture more carbon from forests

The European Commission on Wednesday (14 July) unveiled plans to build up carbon sinks, like forests and wetlands, as part of a broader package of climate legislation aimed at achieving a 55% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

But while the aim to reach 310 million tonnes of net removals is supported by Lins and the EPP, Green lawmakers are less convinced.

In his amendments, Niinistö has suggested increasing a target of 490 million tonnes of net removals by 2030. He told lawmakers that this is needed to “make sure that this decade is the decade when we change land use to be more sustainable”, he told lawmakers.

Niinistö’s report suggests ways to do this, including converting cropland and organic soils to wetlands, forests and grasslands, more sustainable forestry practices, and channelling public revenues to incentivise environment-friendly land practices.

But, while Holzleitner said there has not yet been an analysis of the impact of annual net removals of 500 million tonnes by 2030, he warned that such a quick reduction would have an impact on the bioeconomy, and would probably only be achieved by short term measures, like reductions in harvests.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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