The European Parliament’s plenary vote, 13 September 2017, on how EU nations account for emissions from their land and forest sectors (LULUCF Regulation) was disheartening. The European People’s Party (EPP) proposed last-minute amendments which excluded the climate impacts of forests. In passing such amendments (with a majority of just 15), Parliament succumbed to pressure from Member States eager to increase wood harvests without accounting for its climate impacts.
The next step in the LULUCF Regulation’s journey is the European Council vote on 13 October. The Council should retain remaining positive elements, such as including accounting for managed wetlands after 2026, and the introduction of net-net accounting – an honest method to ensure that the EU’s forest sink does not decrease in comparison to the 1990 - 2009 average. The Council should also support the mandate given to the Commission to propose how to increase the climate mitigation role of the land and forest sector after 2030.
It will be up to the Council to reject the negative changes and ambiguities brought in by the Parliament.
The most serious disappointment was a change in the overall reference period from 1990 - 2009 to 2000 - 2012; this amendment overtly undermines the environmental integrity of the Regulation. The previous period conformed with international climate rules; the proposed period seems arbitrary and fails to account for the increased harvest for bioenergy that has occurred since the introduction of the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive.
Other proposed amendments could have harmful consequences, but they are so ambiguous that their impacts are unclear. These include:
- Doubling the use of forest offset credits from 3.5 per cent to 7 per cent. This could encourage the juggling of emissions between different land types. So if you earn credits by cutting less forest, you could stop taking action on other sources of emissions like croplands. We need to reduce emissions from all land types.
- New wording on the intensity of forest management that opens the door for countries to set political rather than scientific reference levels.
- Wording on the conditions under which Member States can increase harvest levels can be interpreted in many different ways. For example it could challenge the Member States’ competence on forest issues by not allowing them to increase harvesting levels or introduce new policies beyond 2018.
The EPP amendments may have passed, but with a slim majority of only 15 MEPs. This means that LULUCF rapporteur Norbert Lins has a difficult job in the Trilogue explaining to the Council and Commission why his amendments should trump the Commission proposal. The text proposed by the Commission had already been compromised to protect the forest industry. Parliament’s further weakening makes it hard to see how the EU will meet its climate goals. The Council has one final chance to ensure EU climate regulation is fit for the task of keeping global warming well below 2˚C.