The European Parliament reaffirmed a call to increase climate ambition, improving on past performance by voting on 8 June 2022 to adopt MEP Ville Niinisto’s land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) report (FW 275). It now remains to ensure that the European Council does not undo progress.
The version adopted in plenary, with 472 in favour, 124 votes against, and 22 abstentions, does not fully meet all hopes, but goes some way towards remedying the recklessness of permitting, under the 2018 LULUCF Regulation, a considerable decline in the carbon sequestered by forests, from –262 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon to –225 Mt by 2025; and of ignoring forest bioenergy emissions, essentially giving a free pass to increased harvesting.
This new version sets a land carbon removals target of at least –310 Mt, with the possibility of going further through new incentives for farmers and foresters. Although this still falls far short of civil society’s hoped-for –600 Mt, it nonetheless halts, and then reverses, the downward spiral of ambition.
Importantly, a loophole omitting harvesting wood for bioenergy is also reconfirmed, and would now have to be accounted for transparently.
Although offsetting outside of land sectors remains the same, the conditions for offsets between countries have been considerably tightened. These would now have to be paid for, must be linked to compliance with the Birds and Habitats Directives, and are permitted only to compensate natural disturbances. This limits ‘flexibilities’, whereby countries can meet overall emissions targets by using the credits generated by other countries’ overachievement. More worrying, an additional 50 Mt flexibility has been made available subject to these conditions, potentially negating any additional effort beyond the -310 Mt target.
The Regulation acknowledges that forests are not only carbon, and enshrines the principle that actions to meet the LULUCF target should ‘do no significant harm’ and also aims to set minimum standards for biodiversity monitoring, a welcome step to treat nature loss and climate change together.
As the LULUCF file moves to ‘trilogue’ negotiations, certain elements of the proposed Regulation must be closely monitored. The flexibilities could yet return, attacking ambition. The European Commission may choose to include short-lived wood products like packaging on a list of ‘carbon storage products’, which would be a negative move. Progress on the land carbon removals target could be walked back if the French presidency gets its way, even as Finland and Estonia are showing us the startling fragility of carbon sink calculations (see Worrying news from Finland and Estonia’s forests).
But for now, the Parliament has offered a break in the clouds; it is hoped they can hold the line throughout negotiations.