On December 11, the European Commission, now headed by former German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, published its long awaited proposal for a European Green Deal.
It contains two standalone forest initiatives as well as some wording that opens the door to promising policies for both European and global forests.
At the international level, the Commission states that it will take regulatory measures to support deforestation-free value chains, starting in 2020. This is an evolution from last July’s landmark communication on stepping up EU action to protect the world’s forests, adopted under the Juncker Commission, that committed to assessing the need for such measures.
At the European level, the Commission acknowledges that the “EU’s forested area needs to improve, both in quality and quantity, for the EU to reach climate neutrality and a healthy environment”. It states it will “identify measures to improve and restore degraded ecosystems” through the EU biodiversity strategy in 2020 and produce the laws to implement these goals in 2021. It will also consider a “natural restoration plan” accompanied by funding and commits to revising “relevant legislative measures to deliver on the increased climate ambition”.
In a statement, Fern welcomed the proposed Green Deal saying it could be a springboard for ambitious forest action. But several hard choices lie ahead as the Commission turns its words into action.
The Commission doesn’t mention what type of regulation it will use to tackle the international forest footprint stemming from its consumption of agricultural commodities. NGOs, Members of the European Parliament and most recently companies have specifically called for a regulation ensuring companies trading in the EU monitor, address and mitigate the negative impacts of their supply chains on forests and human rights.
The Commission also commits to being a global climate leader but makes no mention of championing international action against deforestation. To succeed, the EU must fully integrate forests into its wider climate and development plans and negotiate strong and equal partnership agreements with forested countries. Such agreements must have the support of organisations representing forest-dependent people, in order to tackle the root cause of deforestation, such as poor governance.
At the European level, the EU will also need to do a reality check on its current climate policies.
Their 2050 carbon neutrality goal can only be met if they also have legislation to restore forests, wetlands and peatlands which play a crucial role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Fern calls on the Commission to adopt binding targets to restore land and forests so that they return to the kind of healthy ecosystems that store more carbon, are more resilient to climate change and provide crucial services such as water filtering.
European forests cannot be restored unless current EU laws are revised to discourage burning trees for energy generation. This is urgently needed since in the last five years, however, EU forests have dramatically decreased their ability to absorb carbon dioxide. This is due to increased harvesting, a trend that started after 2009 when the EU encouraged countries to subsidise burning wood to produce energy. In its statement, Fern argues that when revising the current climate and energy package, the European Commission should phase out bioenergy subsidies and end the myth that burning wood is carbon neutral.