The European Union can do more to communicate the social and economic benefits of forest management to the general public, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) argues in a set of recommendations adopted on 16 May that also emphasise that the sustainable management of forests should be "treated on a par with other measures aimed at reducing CO2 emissions" by the EU.
The CoR's opinion – which was drafted by Ossi Martikainen ( FI/ALDE), a member of Lapinlahti Municipal Council – is a contribution by the EU's assembly for local and regional authorities to the EU's mid-term review of its forest strategy , which was produced in 2013 and will be reviewed by the European Commission this autumn.
Mr Martikainen said: "Local and regional authorities have a great deal of experience in forestry, because they often own forests, manage forests, and implement national and EU legislation on forestry. We can see each day that forests are an important element to the economic success, social cohesion, and environmental sustainability of our communities, many of them in remote areas, and our recommendations highlight a number of ways in which they should use their powers to promote the transition to a bio-economy. Local and regional leaders should, for example, encourage the use of timber in construction and of advanced biofuel in public transport and in public facilities."
He continued: "Forestry, forest services and the forest bioenergy sector provide jobs for up to 4 million people in Europe and add €460 billion in value to the EU's economy. Forest policies are largely made in national capitals, but it is right that the EU is encouraging its member states to harmonise policies and it should continue to promote the reforestation of Europe and to reverse the deforestation on other continents. This is a strategy that is good for Europeans, for Europe, and for the climate. When we talk about reducing carbon emissions, we should also promote the re-growth of forests globally."
On the impact of the EU's forest strategy, Mr Martikainen said: "The EU's forest strategy is proving effective as a means of mainstreaming forestry issues and climate action into policies, and it offers good feedback opportunities. There are gaps, though. The Commission could solicit more input of local and regional authorities on issues such as green infrastructure, the bio-economy and the 2020 biodiversity strategy. It could also help ensure that the lively debates – and, sometimes, disputes – in our communities are fruitful, by providing more funding for research and reliable data. The EU could also gather examples of best practice, helping communities develop tried-and-tested proposals for action. This review is a chance for the EU to upgrade its efforts, to stimulate sustainable action, and contribute to public debate."
The opinion comes shortly after the European Commission suggested, on 2 May, that the percentage of the EU's budget used for climate-related purposes should be increased to 25%, from 20% in 2014-20, but also suggested cuts in the common agricultural policy (CAP), the main source of EU funding for forestry and forest services. The CAP provides funding, for example, for efforts to support entrepreneurship and training, to prevent deforestation, and plan and manage forests, and to introduce agroforestry systems.
In 2014, members of the United Nations – in the New York Declaration on Forests – pledged to halve the rate of deforestation by 2020, to end the loss of natural forests by 2030, and to restore at least 350 million hectares of degraded forest lands by 2030, an area greater than the size of India. Around 161 million hectares of forest – 4% of the world’s total – are in the EU and, between 1990 and 2010, forest coverage in the EU increased by approximately 11 million hectares.
Notes to editors:
Forests cover around 40% of the EU’s land area. Two-thirds of the EU's forested areas lie in six member states: Sweden, Finland, Spain, France, Germany and Poland. As in Finland and Sweden, forests cover more than 60% of Slovenia. By contrast, forests cover only 11% of the territory of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. More than 60% of forests are in private hands.
Ossi Martikainen (FI/ALDE), is a member of Lapinlahti Municipal Council and chairman of the CoR's Commission for Natural Resources (NAT). The NAT commission adopted the opinion by a majority vote on 9 March. The CoR adopted its first opinion on the EU Forest Strategy in January 2014, four months after the European Commission published the strategy. The strategy provides a framework for reference when drawing up sectoral policies that have an impact on forests. The strategy was followed, in September 2015, by the adoption of an implementation plan, setting out actions addressing challenges in the European timber sector. The EU is currently reviewing and updating most of its climate-related legislation to bring it into line with the 2030 targets; the European Commission will release its mid-term review of the forest strategy in the autumn.
The CoR's opinion reviewing the EU Forest Strategy highlights the importance of forests to climate regulation – "around 10% of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions are stored in forests" – and to Europe's economy, noting that forestry and forest services provide jobs for 3.5 million people ("up to 4 million if the forest bioenergy sector is also included") and add €460 billion in value to the EU's economy. It also identifies potential for greater benefits: while "90% of the timber raw materials used by Europe are of European origin", the percentage could rise; the transition to a greener economy and the growth of the bioeconomy could raise demand; while a "long-term approach" to sustainable management could result in "up to 90% of Europe's forests" being "natural or semi-natural, hosting a wide range of species". It argues that local and regional authorities should, for instance, be given more opportunity to shape EU initiatives that support the diversity of forests, such as the Natura 2000. Among its specific proposals, the opinion calls for "substantial investment in technology, pilot facilities and large-scale production, as well as a long-term regulatory framework".
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