This article is part of our special report Rural Energy.
The share of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) expenditure earmarked for forest protection should be increased but only if forest owners conform to biodiversity and other environmental policies, says Greek Socialist MEP Kriton Arsenis in an interview with EURACTIV.
A European Parliament report, adopted last week, backed calls to increase funding for EU forest protection measures via the CAP's rural development pillar.
The report came in response to the European Commission's 2010 Green Paper on forest protection.
The author of the report, Greek MEP Kriton Arsenis (Socialists & Democrats), said "forest spending, not necessarily for protection, does not exceed 1% of the CAP budget, which in no way reflects the role of forests for the countryside".
However, the MEP refrained from speculating as to the exact amount of money needed.
Arsenis thinks eligibility for funding must be extended to public forest managers and producer groups to guarantee efficient implementation of forest protection measures.
But he said it was essential for this increase to go "hand in hand with cross-compliance instruments to ensure that forest measures are compatible with biodiversity and other policies".
Biodiversity, ecosystem services
The Greek MEP also stressed that the biodiversity dimension of forest management plans should be strengthened, starting with full implementation of EU law – namely the Birds and Habitats Directives, which together form the cornerstone of Europe's nature conservation policy.
Furthermore, broadening the debate to include the provision of ecosystem services as reflected in the EU's new biodiversity strategy should also be taken into account in the EU's forestry strategy, he said.
The Parliament called on the Commission to come up with "options for payment" for actions that boost forests' biodiversity, conservation and restoration.
Arsenis cited the example of German forest owners who are already being rewarded by either water utilities or water bottling companies for the services their forests provide regarding water quality. In such cases, the reward is tied to consumer prices for water or to the cost of mechanical water treatment methods, he explained.
Arsenis stressed that in the above example, price allocation takes place at local or regional level, making the ecosystem service "tangible and quite immediate".
"I would strongly favour this response, especially when compared with distant, often speculative markets such as the Emissions Trading System (ETS)" for CO2, he added.
Including forests in EU carbon-trading scheme
Regarding climate change, the Parliament report considers the ETS in its current form to be incompatible with land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) accounting. It therefore calls on the Commission to reconsider how best to provide funding for carbon savings made via these activities.
Indeed, emissions and removals related to the LULUCF sector currently do not count towards the EU's greenhouse gas reduction commitments. But the Commission is required, by 30 June at the latest, to assess how such emissions and removals can be included in the bloc's climate commitments, and to come forward with a legislative proposal to include the forest sector.
Arsenis said that the call for proposals on how to provide funding for carbon savings from LULUCF activities "reflects the widespread opinion that owners of forests should be rewarded for their forests' sequestration and carbon of storage, reflecting the wider ecosystem services debate".
"In this context, I share the concern of colleagues who see a big paradox in monetary support for carbon savings in forests outside the EU through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) but not equivalent mechanisms inside the EU."
The Commission plans to present a proposal on adding LULUCF to the EU's greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments in October.