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EU must heed the world’s most authoritative science panel and rethink its use of land and forests in climate emergency

8 August 2019

EU must heed the world’s most authoritative science panel and rethink its use of land and forests in climate emergency

The European Union (EU) must rethink how it uses land and forests in the fight against climate breakdown in the light of today’s special report on Land and Climate Change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 

The IPCC warns that using large areas of land for tree-planting or growing feedstock for bioenergy will severely jeopardise global food security and trigger further desertification and land degradation, with “potentially irreversible consequences”. The EU is currently pursuing a renewable energy policy which relies heavily on wood for bioenergy. 

Instead, the IPCC authors suggest that governments should focus on approaches that do not increase competition for land, mainly through reducing deforestation and managing existing forests less destructively. 

Kelsey Perlman, forest and climate campaigner at Fern, said: “The IPCC has cast a shadow on the EU’s climate strategy which relies on tree farms to produce dirty bioenergy. If the EU is serious about its climate commitments, it urgently needs to follow the IPCC’s lead and re-think the way it uses and manages its land. The EU must prioritise protecting healthy and diverse forests ecosystems.” 

Land is crucial to achieving the Paris Agreement’s targets. The IPCC found that the best land use solution to mitigate climate change is to reduce the pressure on existing forests to allow them to store more carbon. If executed properly, such an option would remove the need for vast amounts of additional tree planting. 

By contrast, in its proposal for a Long Term climate strategy, the European Commission recommends dedicating large amounts of unforested land to tree planting, in a bid to increase the amount of wood available for bioenergy and to develop carbon capture and storage. According to scientists, this is the riskiest option for sustainable land management. 

Linde Zuidema, bioenergy campaigner at Fern, said: "Today’s report calls on governments to phase-out harmful subsidies that drive deforestation and forest degradation. This means the EU should phase out subsidies for bioenergy and focus instead on promoting protection and restoration of forests – which has proven to be positive for nature and people.” 

Tackling the EU’s insatiable appetite for and trade in goods laced with deforestation 

The Report also states, with high confidence, that incentivising healthy and sustainable diets, reducing food loss, and reforming international trade are crucial pieces of the puzzle. As a major trading bloc and a top importer of agricultural products whose production drives deforestation, the EU can play a pivotal role in the global fight against deforestation. 

With its huge imports of soy, palm oil or cocoa, the EU is responsible for destroying healthy forests in the global south. By implementing legally binding, enforceable new laws, it must ensure that its trade in agricultural commodities doesn’t lead to deforestation and forest degradation,” said Perrine Fournier, Forests and Trade campaigner at Fern. 

In all trade agreements signed to date, provisions on forests and responsible supply chains are not enforceable, because the monitoring and dispute resolution processes if they are not complied with are insufficient. 

Land rights – especially for women – is key to climate-friendly ecosystems 

The IPCC Report also refers to the compelling evidence that land is managed more sustainably when communities have rights to their land, women are in leading positions and local people are involved in decisions about it. 

This Report confirms what satellite images have already proven: when communities have rights to their land, forests and communities are better protected. It is great to see a high-level endorsement of the need to give communities secure land tenure rights. The EU should increase its support for communities to secure their land tenure rights,” said Alexandra Benjamin, Forest and Development campaigner at Fern. 

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Note to editors 

Fern welcomed the recent EU communication on stepping up action to protect protect and restore the world’s forests on deforestation  which was published earlier in the Summer, and believes that this Report provides yet more proof that the EU needs to push ahead with legislative measures that would provide appropriate demand and supply sides measures to address deforestation and land degradation.

Categories: Bioenergy, Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF), Negative emissions

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