The European Commission have published their work programme for 2021, and as the Commission prepares broadly “to shift from strategy to delivery,” several areas are of particular importance to climate and forests.
An amendment to the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) is planned in the second quarter (Q2) of 2021. Current RED targets are not ambitious enough to meet the Commission’s 2030 climate targets and policy; changes are therefore being made two years ahead of schedule, and this is an opportunity to review how forest biomass is treated as a renewable form of energy.
Another opportunity pushed forward to meet new, more stringent climate targets is the revision of the Regulation on the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions and removals from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF), also expected in Q2 of 2021. The revision is a recognition that, under the current ‘no net debit’ target for the land use sector which aims for carbon stability, it will be impossible to meet European Commission climate targets, particularly its 2050 ‘net zero’ target. To meet 2050 goals, forests need to remove more carbon, something that appears increasingly unlikely (FW 260); this would require a LULUCF target to substantially increase forest carbon removals. The planned revisions of the LULUCF Regulation and the Emissions Trading System are also important to address emissions from biomass burning.
A new legal framework for the restoration of healthy ecosystems (Restoration Law), is planned in Q4. The aims to incentivise forest and ecosystem restoration to help deliver on climate ambition and improve the abysmal state of biodiversity in the EU, as elsewhere. Fern believes the new law should incentivise restoration activities that enhance biodiversity and carbon sequestration; but forces within the forestry industry would turn incentives towards afforestation, commercial plantations and forest management practices, although over the longer term these are unlikely to yield the intended biodiversity or climate results.
Regarding the revision of the Energy and Environmental Aid Guidelines, current rules apply until the end of 2021, but new, simplified rules should be adopted in Q4. As a non-legislative act, no debate with the Parliament and Council is foreseen. The revision is an important opportunity to address public finance for the use of forest biomass, in particular operating aid.
Finally, two separate initiatives offer a chance to make companies carry out due diligence to remove deforestation and human rights abuses from their supply chains (FW 260). Legislation on sustainable corporate governance (Q2, 2021) seeks to require companies across all sectors to conduct human rights and environmental due diligence in their supply chains. Another legislative file, minimising the risk of deforestation and forest degradation associated with products placed on the EU market (Q2, 2021) may require companies to ensure that they do not bring products responsible for human rights violations, deforestation and ecosystem degradation into the EU. In both initiatives, binding regulation is the strongest option under consideration.