Forests beyond borders: New law to monitor health of EU forests

Posted on November, 22 2023

Today’s proposal by the European Commission for an EU Forest Monitoring Law addresses the urgent need to track the health and resilience of forests in the face of climate and biodiversity crises, recognising the critical role of forests in the EU and the ecosystem services they provide.
With close to half of the EU covered in forests or other wooded land, the health of these ecosystems is paramount for the future of the EU. 

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Our forests are facing increasing pressure from climate impacts, resulting in fires, droughts but also from biodiversity loss, including the logging of our last remaining old-growth forests, so a transparent EU monitoring system is urgently needed," said Anke Schulmeister-Oldenhove, Senior Forest Policy Office at the WWF European Policy Office. "The new legal proposal is a good basis to assess the current situation and ensure our forests will be healthy and resilient in the future, and getting it adopted should be a priority for the current and the next political mandate.”

Forests, essential for biodiversity and climate regulation, and also important for the EU’s bioeconomy, require up-to-date, robust, coordinated, and transparent data for effective monitoring. Though EU Member States do often have their own evaluation systems, there are gaps in reporting, especially on environment related indicators and a coordinated look at forests from an EU perspective is missing: forests do not stop at national borders, and nor do their wildlife, the greenhouse gas emissions they store, the rivers, aquifers and rain-bearing clouds they create, the oxygen they emit, or the problems affecting forests such as increasing levels of disease, forest fires and their smoke. The proposed EU Forest Monitoring Law attempts to fill this gap, creating the basis for EU-wide monitoring.

While supporting the proposal's consideration of forest indicators that address environmental and economic aspects, WWF calls for strengthening the proposal during the co-decision process. Key points include the implementation of fundamental indicators from the outset, including Annex II and III, scientifically robust methodologies, and mandatory national "integrated long-term forest plans" to optimise forest services.

WWF acknowledges the Commission’s commitment to timely technical updates and encourages further enhancements in forest monitoring, urging the inclusion of forest-related data required by existing laws. It is also essential to have a GIS-anchored approach, efficiently combining remote sensing with ground surveys, and making data publicly available for transparency, as proposed by the European Commission.
Bialowieza National Park, Poland