Parliament could still push for ambitious forest climate policy

6 May 2022

Parliament could still push for ambitious forest climate policy

Despite the urgency of the climate crisis and the importance of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from land use and forestry, some Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), Member States and private actors continue to try to downgrade climate ambition. In upcoming votes about the proposed Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) Regulation, there are hopes that the European Parliament will set a more positive course.   

Regarding the Commission’s proposal to amend LULUCF Regulation to make it “Fit for 55” – i.e., to set the EU on a path of 55 per cent GHG emissions reductions by 2030 – the Parliament ENVI Committee’s draft report, led by rapporteur Ville Niinisto from the Greens, was extremely strong. Since then, however, compromise amendments have been proposed that would weaken the initial draft. It is also possible that the Environment Council could reduce it ever further.  

One issue at stake is whether to expand the legislation’s scope to include non-carbon-dioxide emissions from agriculture – creating a new ‘AFOLU’ (Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use) pillar. Including emissions from this sector would mean they could be hidden behind forests’ capacity to sequester carbon, essentially reducing pressure on the agriculture industry to reduce their emissions. To address the climate impact of land use, we need actual GHG emissions reductions and removals. It is therefore hopeful that the ENVI Committee and Member States are proposing to defer discussions about such fundamental changes until after 2030, when proper assessments could be carried out.   

More serious issues remain.   

The overarching land carbon removals target – the amount of carbon dioxide to be sequestered – must be considerably increased to maintain hope of mitigating the worst effects of climate change. Some 260 Mt (million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) are captured today, and the Commission proposes to only raise this to 310 Mt. We could do far better. ENVI originally suggested a target of 490 Mt, and civil society hope for an even higher target by 2030.    

Also damaging to ambition are discussions around whether to count the carbon sequestration of new categories of wood products – everything from hygiene products, to packaging, to toothpicks. These products are quickly disposed of, and if produced through more intensive harvesting (as is currently seen in Estonia), actively degrade forests. The private sector is pushing for a system that considers more wood products as having a climate benefit, despite the current decline of carbon stored in forests, and the likelihood that most of these products would be quickly sent to the landfill. Some MEPs have even suggested that bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) be added to the list of wood products, despite the dubious climate impact. The fight is ongoing, and it is hoped that Parliament will soundly reject industry lobbying.  

But the Council is where the biggest fight is likely to take place. Discussions surround the insertion of “flexibilities” into legislation would allow Member States to write off underachievement in one sector with overachievement in another sector so that, on paper at least, they would look like they had ‘achieved’ their targets. The ENVI rapporteur’s proposal had dramatically limited such flexibility, but the Commission proposed a weaker target, albeit with caveats. Rather than widening loopholes, we should insist on ecosystems restoration.   

The ENVI committee in the European Parliament votes on the report on 16 May 2022 and the plenary will vote soon thereafter.

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