On 16 December 2014 the European Commission released its disappointing and uninspiring workplan for 2015. The programme outlines annual priorities for the European Commission and indicates where political effort will and will not be spent.
A dominant theme in the new Commission, headed by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, so far has been the marked absence of a positive environmental agenda; this continues in its work programme. Titled ‘A New Start,’ many wonder whether ‘A Full Stop’ would be more appropriate, due to high-profile casualties it contains: the air quality and circular economy (waste) packages are in the programme’s “withdraw/modification” Annex. Vice President Timmermans conceded that the circular economy package will be replaced by a “new, more ambitious proposal by end 2015 to promote circular economy” and promised not to “drag his feet.” FERN hopes he won’t: the waste package has important implications for forests also, as reducing food waste is an important part of reducing demand for commodities that drive deforestation.
Other important items of note for forests in the 2015 work programme are the upcoming non-binding communication on the Road to Paris United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP21, which should indicate how the EU will tackle deforestation; the planned refit of the Birds and Habitats Directives, of key importance for biodiversity in EU forests; a cumulative cost assessment of regulatory costs to the EU forest-based industries of the most relevant EU legislation and policies; a new initiative on the strategic framework for an energy union, which could address the limited availability of sustainable woody biomass and reduce the EU’s energy demand; and a Communication on the Sustainable Development goals, which includes a goal on forests and biodiversity.
On balance, the 2015 work programme is a disappointment for those working on the environment and forests. In addition to policies (temporarily?) discarded, none of the forest-related policy and non-binding initiatives foreseen in 2015 do enough to reduce pressure on EU forests or forests globally. Given the EU’s role in destroying the world’s forests through its energy, trade, finance and consumption policies, and its multiple promises both at home and abroad to rein this in, the Commission must be more ambitious in tackling these issues.