“Our fate is closely entwined with forests” said MEP and Vice-President of the European parliament Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou at a recent and important conference on the future of Europe’s forests held in Brussels. This fundamental statement was soon followed by another by HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco who made a clarion call that for true sustainability we “must change our way of life”.
I attended the conference “European and global forests – which way for the future” 6-7 September 2011, hosted by the European Parliament Intergroup: Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development. The conference included top-level policy figures from Europe and beyond including the FAO, UNEP, European Environment Agency, IUCN and many more. Here is my summary of some of the important points raised at the conference.
Global & European forest resources
In the opening speech Director General of IUCN, Julia Marton-Lefevre, stated that “the role of forests in the world and the EU cannot be overstated.” She added that we “must unlock the potential of Europe’s forests as an engine for green growth, while recognising their social and environmental values.”
FAO Assistant Director General of the Forest Department Eduardo Rojas-Briales explained that there are 4 million hectares of forests worldwide covering 31% of the land area. Deforestation is decreasing, contrary to some public opinion: from 16 million hectares per year between 1990-2000, to 13 million hectares per year between 2000-2010. Meanwhile over 7 million hectares have been afforested, including 3 million naturally, in the last decade. Therefore the net loss has dropped from 8.3 to 5.2 million hectares a year during the last ten years. That’s still a significant loss of course, so much more must be done to tackle deforestation, and how much of the 7 million hectares afforested has been the type of forest than can replace the areas cut down; their rich biodiversity, local protection where most needed, and importance to indigenous people – very little I suspect!
Europe has 177 million hectares of forests covering 42% of its land area. 465 million m3 of wood are felled annually from Europe’s forests while the annual growth in them is 769 million m3. MEP and Chair of the EP Committee explained that forests in Europe create €300 billion turnover and 2 million jobs.
Towards a European forestry policy
Some delegates called for a European Forestry Policy although they recognised the considerable difficulties of merging the current policies of individual member states. However, the latest European Forestry Strategy (note not Policy) will be published in 2012: this will be an important and much-needed update to the 1998 Strategy. The aims are to strengthen internal EU strategies while boosting Europe’s international voice on forestry issues. The Strategy must help in meeting 2020 targets, in particular EU climate change legislation, and include measures to help both protect/recover forests from events economically, in terms of resilience, and in delivering ecosystem services. Read more
Following the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) from 2012, agricultural policy needs to assist sustainable forest management (SFM) said former commissioner for Agriculture & Rural Development for the EU, Franz Fischler. “SFM must be emphasised in Pillar II in the new CAP.”
Another important policy context is the EU2020 Strategy that is a “flagship initiative supporting a shift to a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy to achieve sustainable growth”. The role of forestry is likely to be fundamentally recognised.
The path to RIO+20
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio in 2012 is likely to be very important for forestry across the world said Christian Vanden Bilcke, Head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). He believes that forestry policy has matured positively and delivered increasingly well in the last 10 years. Vanden Bilcke explained that Rio+20 will be very different to Johannesburg2002 and that it must “take forests out of and beyond the old environmental silo”. Even though forests may not be included as a specific paragraph, it is clear that real impacts for forests and forestry policy will emerge.
This was an important, perhaps historic conference, that has laid the foundations for forestry to fulfill a more central role in European policy in the future. The many statements by various MEPs and NGO senior decision makers, who came together for this event, created a tangible sense of a real political commitment to forests and to forestry across Europe.