EU targets action on forests


This article is part of our special report Rural Energy.

The European Commission yesterday (1 March) launched an EU-wide consultation to quiz stakeholders on whether the 27-country bloc should act to protect European forests and enhance their resistance to climate change.

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 Poto?nik, 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," Poto?nik 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).

Climate change

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, Poto?nik 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?

Poto?nik 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).

The Confederation of European Private Forest Owners (CEPF) welcomed the Green Paper as "a step forward in the right direction to integrate sustainable forest management into other EU legislation and processes".

CEPF noted that although competence for forest policy lies with member states, "a number of substantial EU developments influence forestry significantly" and the forest sector needs "stronger political recognition and integrity within the EU," in particular recognition of the concept of sustainable forest management.

The EU's current forestry strategy dates back to 1998 and the current forest action plan adopted in 2006 expires in 2011.

In an attempt to prepare the ground for a comprehensive EU climate-change adaptation strategy for after 2013, the European Commission proposed in spring 2009 to review key sectoral policies by 2012, to determine the potential impacts and costs of climate change for different economic sectors (EURACTIV 02/04/09).

The White Paper called for increased resistance of forests to climate change and said that the EU forestry strategy should be updated on climate-related aspects. It announced that a debate (green paper) on options for an EU approach on forest protection would be launched.

According to the Commission, forests and other wooded areas cover some 176 million hectares of the EU, or more than 42% of the EU's land area.

  • 31 July 2010: Deadline for public consultation on Green Paper.
  • 6-7 April 2010: Spanish EU Presidency conference on forest protection in Valsain, Spain.
  • 3 June 2010: Workshop and stakeholder meeting on Green Paper in Brussels during 'Green Week'.

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