EU independent science body criticises European inconsistency in climate policy and forests

7 February 2024

EU independent science body criticises European inconsistency in climate policy and forests

Overlogging and climate change are causing the collapse of European forest carbon sinks, and the EU risks not even meeting weak 2030 Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) targets. There is therefore huge concern that when the Commission communicates the 2040 climate targets, 6 February 2024; it may bow to Member States, such as Sweden, who wish to increase logging for the ‘bioeconomy’ instead of protecting forests to avert climate collapse. The EU’s independent science advisory board underscores the inherent contradiction of such an approach. 

Sweden, Finland and France are particularly affected by collapsing carbon sinks, the outcome of misguided policies that aggravate natural risks: excessive logging, reduced tree growth, increased soil emissions and forest fires. For the first time, Finland’s LULUCF sector has become a net source of emissions; France’s forests stored 3.8 mega tonnes less carbon dioxide equivalent in 2021 than in the previous year

The new European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change (ESABCC) report calls out Member States for their incomplete National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs), and the insufficient information they provided. 

The EU and Member States are scrambling for solutions.  

France’s High Council on Climate recommends making wood harvesting in forests conditional on proper forest management. But France also intends to increase harvests and large-scale plantations – President Emmanuel Macron’s announced one-billion-tree objective earned a warning from the High Council that this might not be operational, and may be risky, given climate change’s projected impacts on forests. 

That the Swedish forest agency is investigating reducing felling to protect the carbon sink is promising, but only if overall demand for wood decreases. Otherwise it could lead to upticks in harvesting elsewhere (‘leakage’).  

Acknowledging that LULUCF targets will not be met unless something changes, the Finnish Environment Institute is exploring innovative solutions to reduce logging and encourage tree growth, including a logging tax, possibly depending on wood type (lower for long-life products, higher for short-life pulpwood); and a logging-damage tax (beyond a regional ‘sustainable’ level). Here again, leakage and the risk of deforestation for other, more profitable land uses must be addressed. The Institute also examines reforming subsidies away from wood production (which is profitable without them), towards supporting non-market environmental impacts and public goods – e.g., switching to continuous cover forest management. 

Member States are not pulling their weight, the European Commission notes: they have not complied with their NECP obligations – which are already insufficiently ambitious.  

Confirming the European Environment Agency’s earlier message, ESABCC sounds the alarm, warning that incentives for biomass-use clash with replenishing the LULUCF carbon sink. It highlights the policy incoherence of promoting burning forest biomass under the Renewable Energy Directive, even in sectors where other mitigation options are more efficient and less risky. EU policies should better reflect that burning wood for energy must be only a last resort. It adds that Member States must urgently “increase the pace of emissions reductions and reverse the declining EU carbon sink in time”, and advises the Commission to take enforcement action if necessary.  

Real solutions are known, and consciously ignored. Enough carrot; time, now, for stick.

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Categories: News, Forest Watch, Bioenergy, European forests

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