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Conflicting and incomplete datasets underscore the need to harmonise forest monitoring

11 October 2023

Conflicting and incomplete datasets underscore the need to harmonise forest monitoring

Biodiversity, climate and ecosystems policies rely on complete forest data, so it’s time for a forest monitoring law to ensure such data exists.

In order to agree on the state of European forests, it is necessary to first harmonise forest monitoring methods. At present there are conflicting data, which support widely divergent views points – meaning time and energy are wasted in a flurry of data and counter-data.

A recent, peer-reviewed article by Turbanova et al. provides an analysis of the state European forests based mainly on satellite data; it corroborates previous articles showing that harvesting levels are increasing, and this is problematic for the climate and biodiversity. These findings corroborate data that European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) published three years ago, but which were contested by the forest industry and certain Nordic government agencies – which brought forward their own data, showing a different picture. The relative silence of these same actors, in light of the newly released data seems to be an acknowledgment of the threats that the JRC had attempted to highlight years ago.

Now that an underlying problem in the dataset has been corrected, both the JRC and the Turbanova articles broadly agree that harvesting in Scandinavia and Baltic countries have increased dramatically since 2015, and that European forests are under ever more pressure. Carbon sinks in the EU are collapsing – and, in light of this, the Commission is poised to raise concerns with nine Member States about their obligations under the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) Regulation. Finland and Estonia’s forests and land-use sectors have even shifted to net emitters of carbon dioxide (FW 276), in Finland’s case, threatening the EU27’s overall climate goals (FW 287).

But the data dispute underscores that, even where both sides act in good faith, at present forest-reporting mechanisms remain piecemeal and lack coherence – never mind when competing interests enter the fray. Existing, and sometimes intentional gaps in data collection (FW 288) make it impossible to develop a complete picture, and address problems accordingly.

A well-crafted forest monitoring law would permit increased transparency, timely, accurate and comparable data collected. Such a law could fill in those data gaps that preclude effective action, requiring regular and timely information on which to base forest management approaches. It could protect the level playing-field, ensuring that those foresters who are trying to instil more sustainable methods are rewarded – or at the very least are not penalised for their efforts.

After much waiting, the proposal for a Forest Monitoring Law is now expected in late November.

Until a coherent EU-wide data-gathering tool can be developed, other means of parsing existing forest ecosystem data must be relied on. 

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Categories: Forest Watch, European forests

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