Europe exported a destructive forestry model around the world but now has the chance to put a stop to it at home, something EU countries must ensure is properly rolled out.
Over the past 50 years, a forestry model that has caused untold harm to nature and the climate has spread its tentacles worldwide from the heart of Europe.
The industrial forestry model, dominant for decades in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe, is based on 18th-century Prussian / Saxon forestry methods. The guiding principle is economic efficiency. It achieves this by maximising the yields of a single tree species to produce skeletal monocultures.
In this way, resilient, diverse natural forests are clearcut and replaced by managed, uniform plantations. It’s a forestry model many national governments worldwide support – and one which has led carbon sinks to collapse over the last decade, vast biodiversity loss and forestry employment decline, particularly in the European Union.
This shift to monocultures has been so far-reaching that people in many parts of the world barely remember what a real forest is.
A chance for change
Now Europe, which exported the industrialised clearcutting of forests, can put a brake on it at home.
The European Union is currently negotiating the first comprehensive continent-wide law to restore its member states’ ecosystems to “bring nature back across Europe, from agricultural land and seas to forests and urban environments”.
The Nature Restoration Law will require EU governments to reverse the alarming environmental damage which has left more than 80% of Europe’s habitats in poor condition.
As such, the new law offers a golden chance for the EU to turn away from a forestry model built on clear-cutting and instead embrace one which benefits nature while protecting Europe’s rapidly dwindling old-growth forests.
It can do this by supporting binding forest indicators requiring better management practices, such as close-to-nature forestry.
Under this model, harvesting is partial, and new trees are not replanted but naturally sprout. Compared to plantation forests harvested with clear-cuts, close-to-nature forestry preserves an ecosystem’s integrity while producing high-value wood.
An antidote to industrial destruction
Yet any move to curtail intensive clearcutting will inevitably face staunch resistance from some EU members.
Among those pushing back against any threat to their way of doing things will be Sweden – where only 3% of forestry doesn’t involve clear-cutting, and forests are considered little more than agricultural fields to be relentlessly harvested.
During its current Presidency of the European Council, Sweden has thwarted progressive elements of EU forest policies: from bulldozing key revisions out of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) to weakening restoration objectives that could promote close-to-nature forestry in the Nature Restoration Law.
As some propose, weakening or rejecting the Nature Restoration Law must not be allowed to happen. This law, and specifically binding EU forest restoration objectives, can offer an antidote to the social and environmental havoc that the current industry model has inflicted.
And instead of promoting a model which destroys ecosystems, the EU can be a standard-bearer for global forest protection.