In its latest vote on Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry, the European Parliament endorsed a higher target for the amount of carbon dioxide that should be removed from EU land. The vote also acknowledged the importance of supporting natural biodiverse forests that offer a home for wildlife as well as emissions removals.
"Today’s vote is a step in the right direction but falls short of introducing what’s required for Europe’s forests to use their full potential in the fight against climate change. Restoring forests and other land can lead to more carbon uptake than the target agreed today.
The EU’s ambition must match the scale of the challenge, which includes the loss of nature as much as the loss of carbon. This vote starts to address both but needs further support through restoration targets that put an end to tree-plantation horror stories and moving towards resilient, nature-filled forests,” said Kelsey Perlman, forest and climate campaigner at Fern.
Stark contrast with 2018
The vote means that the Parliament now endorses recommendations that the forest and rights organisation Fern has been calling for since 2015, and may deliver a Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) Regulation that increases the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered by forests; limits the amount of carbon offsets used as to excuse not meeting climate targets – known as ‘flexibilities’; and transparently accounts for emissions linked to harvesting wood for bioenergy.
Today’s announcement is in stark contrast to the 2018 LULUCF Regulation that allowed forests to remove less carbon. At the time they removed 262 million tonnes (Mt), but the Regulation allowed this to decline to -225MT by 2025. According to the Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator this reduction of 37 Mt would be roughly equivalent to the emissions from ten coal fired power stations for a year.
In addition, complex forest management accounting meant that emissions related to forest bioenergy were ignored, and increase harvesting was justified.
Today’s proposal means that the LULUCF Regulation should begin to close the loopholes made in 2018. The new target would be -310 Mt carbon dioxide sequestration equal to the target proposed by the European Commission. This is well below the civil society ask of -600Mt, but nevertheless represents a reversal of the currently destructive path of the legislation.
While offsetting outside of land sectors has not changed, the conditions under which one country can offset another country’s land degradation has been further restricted. After 2026, countries requesting offsets must pay for them, must be in compliance with the Birds and Habitats Directives, and may only use the offsets to compensate natural disturbances outside of the control of land managers.
Despite these positive steps, the legislation is not perfect. The loss of an additional -50Mt of carbon dioxide to the target as well as sub-targets for agricultural lands is a hit to ambition. An additional 50Mt flexibility has been made available subject to the caveats above, potentially negating any additional effort beyond the -310Mt target. Finally, some elements of the proposed Regulation need careful monitoring, such as if the European Commission decides to include short-lived wood products like packaging on a list of ‘carbon storage products’.
The Parliament’s endorsement moves the file into the ‘trilogue’ phase of negotiations where eyes will turn to the Council’s developing position.
As a backdrop to these negotiations are the realities of the forests in Finland and Estonia, two of the EU’s most forested countries. Finland’s land sink been shown to have become a net source of greenhouse gas emissions, releasing the equivalent of 2.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide last year. In Estonia, the forests are emitting more carbon than they absorb due to intensive logging.