EU Forest Strategy hampered by shortsighted interests

Posted on July, 16 2021

The new strategy was intended to chart a more sustainable path for the management of EU forests, but pressure from some Member States and industry puts economic gains ahead of many climate, biodiversity and social considerations.
The European Commission has adopted its new forest strategy, which aims to improve the health and resilience of EU forests by encouraging management practices that are better for nature, climate and people.

Compared to a draft from June, which showed the Commission taking important steps towards addressing EU citizens’ concerns about the state of Europe’s forests, the final version retains the emphasis on the need for a unified effort to restore their health and resilience but it weakens certain important elements. While it still contains a plan to come up with a legislative proposal for an EU-wide forest observation and reporting framework [1], for example, this proposal has been weakened. The previous draft contained a mandatory set of criteria for assessing whether a forest is 'sustainably managed' [2]. These have been dropped from the legal proposal and will only be used on a voluntary basis.

The last-minute changes came after some Member States [3] and the forest industry claimed that the EU has no competence on forest-related issues and accused the Commission of “reducing forests to environmental considerations” and “not taking into account socio-economic aspects”.

“This kind of false rhetoric completely misses the bigger picture,” said Sabien Leemans, Senior Biodiversity Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office in reaction to the Member States’ position. “Unless we urgently act on climate change and biodiversity loss, we will have no healthy and resilient forests left to speak of. By putting short-term economic gains ahead of other considerations, the industry and farming ministers have shown that they do not understand the scale of the crisis. Arguing for increased harvesting and exploitation is misguided on so many fronts when forests across the EU are losing their ability to capture and store greenhouse gases and their health is deteriorating.”

The good: As it stands, the forest strategy recognises the need to strengthen the protection and restoration of forests and the need for more biodiversity-friendly sustainable forest management to ensure their resilience and productive capacity for decades to come. 

The strategy also emphasises the need to set up schemes to reward forest owners for ecosystem services other than timber production - like water retention, climate regulation, and recreational services - and for adopting climate- and biodiversity-friendly forest management practices.

The bad: However, while the strategy states that the bio-economy should be “boosted within sustainable boundaries”, it lacks concrete safeguards to prevent intensified forest management and harvesting that go against the EU’s climate and biodiversity objectives.

This is a double blow given the Commission’s shameful decision this week to side with the biomass industry lobby and reject any meaningful revision to the rules on bioenergy in the renewable energy directive (RED). This means the RED will continue to incentivise burning trees for energy, increasing emissions compared to fossil fuels and putting forests under ever greater pressure. “The forest strategy is not a legal instrument, and so will not be able to drive the necessary change for our forests if its principles are not mirrored in the relevant legislation like RED and LULUCF,” added Sabien Leemans.

For more information:

Sabien Leemans
Senior Biodiversity Policy Officer
Bartosz Brzezinski
Communications Officer for Biodiversity & Agriculture
Tel. +32 484 28 15 10


Notes to editors

[1] According to the strategy’s text, the aim of the legislative proposal is to ensure a coordinated EU forest monitoring and reporting system, also using remote sensing technologies integrated with ground-based monitoring, to provide a comprehensive picture of the state of the forests in the EU and to serve as basis for strategic plans to be developed by Member States. 

[2] The strategy says the definition of sustainable management will be improved with indicators and concrete thresholds or ranges concerning forest health, biodiversity and climate change.The aim is to be able to better compare the impacts of different management approaches and the overall state of EU forests. However, these indicators will not be integrated in the legal framework, but will only be used on a voluntary basis.

[3] See 2 July letter to Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans signed by ministers in charge of forestry in Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia
The new EU Forest Strategy recognises the urgent need to strengthen protection and restoration of Europe's forests but it lacks concrete ways to prevent intensified harvesting that harms EU's climate and biodiversity objectives.
© Jaap van der Waarde / WWF-Netherlands
The strategy emphasises the need to set up schemes to reward forest owners for ecosystem services other than timber production and for adopting climate- and biodiversity-friendly forest management practices.
© Victor Daggberg / WWF-Sweden