The EU Court of Auditors (ECA) released its audit of the EU’s efforts to protect biodiversity and address climate change in EU forests - Support for biodiversity and climate change in EU forests: positive but limited results, on 4 October 2021. The findings indicate the need to improve measuring and act on the biodiversity and climate change effects of forestry. And there are legislative chances to do so on the horizon.
Against the backdrop of the EU’s Habitats and Birds directives, the ECA found that the Commission’s strategies to boost the poor conservation and biodiversity status of EU forests were problematic as they failed to set specific objectives or targets for biodiversity or forest health. Member States frequently delay or inappropriately define their conservation measures, and the quality of these is often poor. Covering only 23 per cent of EU forests, Natura 2000’s impact is limited by its size.
Forests are increasingly implicated in climate change policies and in renewable energy and Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) rules, the ECA found, but efforts to adapt forests to climate change or to set ecological constraints on using forests for energy have been hindered by lack of knowledge and information, and are less well developed as a result.
The ECA pointed out that the rules of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), the body charged with channelling EU financial support toward forestry-related climate change and biodiversity actions, fail to guarantee protective outcomes; legislative proposals for the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) give Member States still greater flexibility with regard to forestry schemes, so are unlikely to help.
A clear picture is difficult to obtain, the ECA states; the common EU monitoring system does not measure the biodiversity and climate change effects of forestry measures.
“To improve forestry practices, you need to be able to monitor biodiversity – but the tools that EU currently has at its disposal are largely impotent to meet this critical challenge,” says Fern Forest and Climate campaigner Kelsey Perlman. “Fortunately, the EU recognises this, as within its Forest Strategy is a call for Forest Observation, Reporting and Data Collection framework legislation. Those Member States who currently oppose it should heed the Auditors’ clear finding that, without such a tool, the dire state of EU forests will not improve.”
The LULUCF Regulation and the Forest Observation, Reporting and Data Collection framework are important opportunities to improve the EU’s contribution to biodiversity and to tackling climate change in EU forests. The LULUCF review proposes amendments to monitor protected areas and land with high biodiversity value. The new Forest Observation framework legislation, expected next year, could build on this by defining additional indicators to monitor (such as deadwood and diversity of tree species).
To see where we are headed, the EU must be able to assess the impact of forest management practices; currently it cannot. The logical next step is to seize legislative opportunities to get this right, and address our data shortfalls.