Forests and climate: Blog
By Hannah Mowat
The recently-published draft reports of the Land Use Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) regulation give an indication of which direction the different committees’ rapporteurs would like to take the file. Here we offer a quick overview of the main highlights and lowlights:
Environment Committee report: The ENVI Committee is in charge of the LULUCF file and so its report is of most interest. It is worrying therefore that rapporteur Norbert Lins’ draft proposes to fundamentally weaken the LULUCF Regulation in two key ways: First, he suggests ignoring the emissions related to any increased harvesting that took place between 2009 - 2012; second, he proposes doubling the cap on forest management credits from 200 to 400 megatonnes (MT). Allowing Member States to offset a further 200 MT would be the equivalent of leaving almost 200 million more cars on the road. Lins’ report goes against his native country Germany’s amendments, which seek to strengthen the Commission proposal.
Agriculture Committee report: The rapporteur Elisabeth Köstinger’s report (which closely follows the amendment proposed by her native country Austria) undermines the Commission’s proposal in almost every way. The proposal removes the need to count emissions and removals from forests correctly, so that, for instance, future emissions from forests would not be counted. Changing the way emissions from forest removals are counted fundamentally undercuts the ability of the EU to ensure that bioenergy emissions are properly accounted for, since the carbon dioxide released from bioenergy is meant to be counted at the point of harvest not the point of combustion. The proposal also further weakens the credibility of credits generated by forest management, ending the hopes of many Member States that forest management could be used to offset emissions in the future.
Development Committee report: Rapporteur Florent Marcellesi has chosen to strengthen the Commission’s proposal in several ways. Recognising the international implications if the EU agrees weak rules, he proposed that all human-induced emissions are counted – not hidden in forests. This sets the best precedent for countries facing high levels of deforestation.
Industry, Research and Energy Committee report: Rapporteur Marisa Matias also proposes to strengthen the LULUCF Regulation, suggesting that emissions and removals from wetlands be counted and affirming that any actions to increase carbon in land and forests must comply with the EU’s biodiversity legislation.
November 4, Brussels – The Paris Climate Agreement enters in to force today, less than a year after it was agreed. Such a rapid adoption indicates that there remains strong political will to tackle climate change. Fern’s analysis of the Agreement, called it an “historic moment and an achievement of international diplomacy”. We also warned that the net zero emissions target risked relying too much on the land use sector which could pose significant additional risks to forests, food security, and the land rights of vulnerable communities.
As the build up to the 2016 Marrakech climate conference (COP22) continues, Fern is urging the EU to limit greenhouse gas emissions sooner rather than later, and to offer greater protection to forests and forest peoples’ rights.
The EU’s current emissions reduction targets were set before the Paris Agreement was negotiated. These targets have no chance of achieving the Paris Agreement and so will have devastating impacts on some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
The EU’s biggest instrument for dealing with climate change is the Effort Sharing Regulation, which mandates member states to reduce emissions in certain key sectors by 30 per cent. Increasing the ambition to a 45 per cent reduction is both achievable and consistent with the Paris Agreement.
Forests are more than a place to keep carbon
The Paris Agreement comes after years of prevaricating and delay which has meant that levels of greenhouse gases are so high that we already need to look at how to remove them as well as getting close to zero emissions. As trees and forest ecosystems extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and temporarily store carbon, they seem an obvious place for emissions-removal work. There is a real danger however that, if done poorly, such attempted reductions would threaten food security, community land rights and forests. Fern highlights the issues in our report on the topic, Going Negative.
The best and safest way to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is to restore existing forests, and the most consistent way to ensure rich and biodiverse forests is to respect and protect the land rights of the communities that live there.
Despite the urgent action required, the EU’s proposed new regulation on land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) will allow Member States to actually increase carbon emissions. This needs to change. The Regulation should incentivise the restoration of European forests, thereby increasing their capacity to store carbon. This restoration work must not however be used as an excuse for industry to pump even more greenhouse gases in to the atmosphere.
Changing consumption patterns
Deforestation is still a major source of carbon emissions, and most deforestation is caused by commercial agriculture. As a leading consumer of products grown or reared on deforested land, the EU needs find ways to strip deforestation out of its international supply chains. If it cannot do this, the chances of the world meeting the targets set by the Paris Agreement are slim.
The EU is currently conducting a feasibility study into an Action Plan to reduce deforestation and protect rights, to tackle precisely this issue. Fern and many other NGOs are calling on the EU to ensure such an Action Plan considers all the areas in which action needs to be taken.
One way to reduce emissions is by replacing fossil fuels with low carbon alternatives, such as wind and solar. Unfortunately, EU renewable energy policy presently relies on biomass. Bioenergy provides almost 65 per cent of overall renewable energy consumption despite the fact that burning biomass for energy can increase carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and reduce the carbon stored in forests or wood products. Fern explains the possible climate impacts of bioenergy use in a briefing note ‘Burning trees is no solution to climate change’.
Fern will be attending the COP and will be analysing how decisions will affect forests and forest peoples. All material will be available from our website www.fern.org and our Twitter account https://twitter.com/Fern_NGO