The European Commission's proposal for a new Nature Restoration Law sets ground-breaking, legally binding targets to end the spiral of destruction afflicting the EU's ecosystems, including its forests. For the first time, the draft text foresees restoring targets for all EU forests, whether they are managed for wood or for nature.
“This proposal offers a tantalising prospect: the return to health of Europe’s stricken forests. Europe’s forests are amongst the most degraded on the planet, meaning the carbon dioxide they hold has been released into the atmosphere, and their biodiversity destroyed. This law sets a precedent for reversing this destruction.
Now - for the first time - EU Members would have binding targets for restoring all their forests, not just the protected ones. This represents a golden chance to adopt new progressive management practices that can provide more rural jobs while having a positive environmental impact," said Kelsey Perlman, Forest and Climate Campaigner at Fern. European forests cover 40 per cent of EU land. Seventy-six per cent of them are managed and yet there are currently no EU tools to support forest restoration. The past decade has seen a growing industrialisation of forest management, which made European forests more vulnerable to climate change impacts like drought and storms.
The proposed law sets out the objective of seeing an ‘increasing trend’ in forests, providing indicators of forest health, such as the amount of organic carbon in the soil, or deadwood that houses insects and mushrooms, which are vital to healthy forests. The best way to do this is through letting nature take control in highly biodiverse areas like old-growth forests and through sustainable alternatives to intensive forestry, such as close-to-nature forestry to improve more degraded forests.
While industrial practices have caused employment in the EU forest sector to decrease by about 33 per cent between 2000 and 2015, such alternative models, which often require more workers, could create new job opportunities in too often marginalised rural areas.
Despite the environmental and social harm caused by intensive practices, Finland, Sweden and Estonia’s forest industries have requested that forest ecosystems be excluded from the new Nature Restoration Law.
Siim Kuresoo, who is responsible for the forests and climate programme at the Estonian Fund for Nature (ELF), said: “Major European forest industries and their countries’ governments have relentlessly lobbied against this new law. They have only one overriding concern: maintaining access to large quantities of cheap biomass, whatever the cost to forests, communities, nature and the climate.
We call on EU Member States, particularly my own homeland – Estonia, to stop obstructing this law. Restoring forest ecosystems and scaling up close to nature forestry practices would create new job opportunities especially in economically marginal areas where rural depopulation is a serious challenge.”
The EU will need to put in place the necessary tools to track and deliver on those new targets. As part of its 2030 Forest Strategy, the Commission has proposed an upcoming Law on EU Forest Monitoring and Data Collection, which is expected at the beginning of 2023. This will help track the restoration law’s goals.
“For EU forests to help us achieve a more resilient, liveable future, restoration targets won’t be enough. At present, a lack of shared monitoring means there isn’t common agreement among Members States about the condition of EU forests. So for this ground-breaking law to fulfil our hopes, the EU must adopt a new Forest Monitoring Law as well as governance provisions that include input from scientists and NGOs, not just the forest sector,” added Perlman.