Cleaning up the EU’s own backyard

16 December 2020

Cleaning up the EU’s own backyard

It’s a tough time for EU forests. The EU engages in valuable initiatives to protect forests elsewhere but, as its own forests are in a downward spiral, keeps missing opportunities to protect its own. 

After last month’s close-up look at Irish forestry becoming a net emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2) (FW 260), the Netherlands is also making bleak news. Researchers at the University of Wageningen recently highlighted a net decrease in forest area of about 5,400 hectares between 2013 and 2017 − a rate of loss of overall forest area higher than Brazil’s!  

The situation is equally grim in Estonia and Latvia: a recent report  by the Estonian Fund for Nature and the Latvian Ornithological Society underscores the impacts that intensified logging, principally by clear-felling, is having on forest biodiversity in the two Member States. Over the past decade, 14 per cent of the Estonia’s ancient forests have been degraded to the point that they can no longer be considered old-growth; Latvia’s key habitats were initially mapped but then removed from the State Forest Service database, leaving the decision to log or protect at local levels. The rising demand for forest bioenergy mirrors that of overall logging levels, the research shows; even more concerning is that many logging permits were issued within protected sites. 

Poland does not shy away from logging in protected areas either, and even takes steps to prevent the public from challenging authorities’ decisions – a procedural failing (to provide access to justice for its citizens) in addition to failures under the Birds and Habitats directives. But there is a silver lining: Three years after a complaint filed by three Polish NGOs described how forest management law prevents compliance with the Birds and Habitats directives, the European Commission took action. On 3 December 2020, the European Commission announced it was taking Poland to the EU Court of Justice for failing to scrap exemptions in their forestry laws that threaten forest protection, biodiversity and the Natura 2000 network. 

The EU’s current policies are insufficient to meet the EU’s own biodiversity targets. Upcoming debates on an EU restoration law and to revise the Renewable Energy Directive and Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry Regulation are timely opportunities to address the current destruction on the ground. 

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