THE PATH TOWARDS THE NEW EUROPEAN FORESTRY STRATEGY FOR 2030

With the new European Green Deal, the Union announced a new strategy concerning forestry with the aim of promoting the biodiversity, health and resilience of forests. 

The role of forests in the European Union 

Starting from the definition by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), a forest is land with tree crown cover (or equivalent stocking level) of more than 10% and an area of more than 0.5 hectares. The trees should be able to reach a minimum height of 5 meters at maturity in situ.

 Forests and other wooded land cover over 40 % of the EU’s land area, an equivalent of 227 million hectares. They are exceptionally different reflecting the Union’s geoclimatic diversity (boreal forests, alpine forests with conifers, etc.) with a large variety of different forest types, characteristics and ownership structures. 

Examples of forest management in Europe are: mono-functional forests that are used for intensive production of timber and other wood products; in some parts of the EU these are mainly constituted of plantation of non-native species;multi-functional forests that are aimed to produce timber alongside ecosystem services (protecting air, soil, water, and carbon), biodiversity conservation and the provision of social benefits (cultural heritage, recreational opportunities and aesthetic landscapes); the management of these forests is ‘closer to nature’ than that of mono-functional forests, and it is more likely to require some trade-offs between the many different objectives; these types of forests are managed primarily for their biodiversity value, for specific ecosystem services and/or for the benefit of people; this group includes old-growth native forests that require very little intervention, nature reserves and also protective forests and urban forests.

Forest coverage varies considerably from one Member State to another, with countries like Sweden, Finland, Spain, France, Germany and Poland accounting to two thirds of the EU’s forested areas while in some others like the Netherlands the forested areas account just to, 8.9% of the European share.

Moreover, unlike in many parts of the world where deforestation is still a major problem, in the EU the area of land covered by forests is growing; by 2010, forest coverage had increased by approximately 11 million hectares since 1990, as a result of both natural growth and afforestation work.

Their purpose is fundamental and multifunctional since they serve economic, social and environmental purposes, offering habitats for animals and plants and playing a major role in mitigating climate change and other environmental services. In addition, forests also offer important societal benefits, including for human health, recreation and tourism, also contributing to rural development and providing around three million jobs.

Another relevant data is the one concerning their role as a fundamental source of renewable energy: forest biomass accounts for around half of the EU’s total renewable energy consumption. Finally, forests provide a large range of other products, such as cork, resins, mushrooms, nuts, game and berries. 

The forestry sector (forestry, wood and paper industry) accounts for approximately 1% of EU gross domestic product, although the figure is as high as 5% in Finland and provides jobs for some 2.6 million people.

However, forests are threatened by many factors that can be divided in two main categories: abiotic and biotic. The abiotic (physical or chemical) threats to forests include fires (as in the case of the Mediterranean area), drought, storms (on average, over the past 60 years, two major storms a year) and atmospheric pollution (emissions from road traffic or industrial plants).

In addition, the construction of roads and infrastructures poses a major threat to forests’ biodiversity and it leads to their fragmentation. Biotic factors, such as animals, including deer, and insects and diseases, may also damage forests. Finally, the increasing use of land, the expansion of urban areas, and climate change have contributed to place more pressure on forests and forest management

For example, intensified harvesting of trees to meet the demand for biomass puts pressure on forest management, old growth forests, and levels of deadwood. In total, approximately 6% of forested land areas are damaged by at least one of these factors.

Even if in the European Union, only 60-70% of the annual increment is being cut, leading the growing stock of wood to rise, according to Member States’ projections under Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF), harvest rates are expected to increase by around 30% by 2020 as compared to 2010.

The role of the EU and the path towards the New European Forest strategy 

The European Union has an important role in the regional forest strategy. The European Parliament, together with the Council, legislates in great many fields that affect forests, particularly farming and the environment, etc. under the ordinary legislative procedure.

In addition, the Parliament and the Council adopts the EU budget jointly. In particular, the Parliament has influenced many items of legislation with an impact on forests, for example on the common agricultural policy and energy policy (revision of Directive 2009/28/EC on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources — 2016/0382 (COD)).

However, the most important step taken by the Parliament was on the 30thof January 1997: this consisted of the first-ever own-initiative report that led to the adoption of a resolution on the European Union’s forestry strategy. In this way, the Parliament called on the Commission to present proposals for a European forestry strategy. Therefore the Commission answered with its communication on a forestry strategy for the European Union (COM(1998) 0649) leading the Council to adopted the first EU forestry strategy on 15 December 1998. 

Re-emphasising the importance of this strategy, the Parliament reiterated throughout the years, its support to a plan to protect European forestry. In particular, in 2013, it presented its communication entitled ‘A new EU Forest Strategy: for forests and the forest-based sector’ (COM(2013) 0659) that was then reviewed 5 years later in 2018. The latest and the most recent communication concerning forestry in Europe is the ‘New EU Forest Strategy for 2030’, released on 16 July 2021. 

As part of the “Fit for 55 Package”, this strategy aims to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of 1990 with 55% by 2030, embodying  the reduction targets of the European Green Deal. In other words, it contains the practical actions the European Commission wants to take to move towards a climate-neutral Europe.

This new strategy acknowledges the importance of large, healthy, and more diverse forests for carbon storage and sequestration, reduction of the effects of air pollution on human health and halting loss of habitats and species. Moreover, the European Commission’s aims to work closely with global partners to achieve forest protection and sustainable forest management. 

Conclusion

To sum up, the forest strategy recognizes the importance of forests and their role in the preservation of biodiversity, wildlife and mitigation of climate change. If these objectives are accomplished, the forests will provide livelihood and boost socio-economic benefits. Moreover, it will welcome the development of sustainable economic opportunities for local authorities, although this should be done with caution. 

At the same time, the strategy aims at promoting the sustainable and safe exploitation of wood and-non wood products, whilst setting up a framework to communicate with the Member States, forest managers and other stakeholders. 

However, the Union will need to pay attention to some of the objectives of its strategy and in particular to those of afforestation and reforestation. As a matter of facts, planting new trees is not always the best choice. If planting more trees can be welcome in many areas, it is important to not proceed with such afforestation without taking into appropriate consideration the territory.

For example, in some mountain areas, it would close landscapes, damage other habitats and cause irreversible biodiversity losses. Large scale afforestation of natural grasslands or culturally rich historical small-scale landscapes can lead to the loss of specific species. Therefore, the strategy should focus on a place-based approach and adapted management practices.

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