EU legislation reveals steep decline in carbon stored in European forests

By: Reinhold Pape

Environmental NGOs are deeply concerned about the development of forestry in Europe and how these forests store carbon and protect biodiversity. They are very concerned about the latest developments in how forests should be dealt with in EU climate policy.

According to FERN, “by 2025, European forests are likely to hold 18% less carbon than in the early 2000s, according to information published today by the European Commission. The new figures have been released under the EU’s Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) regulation, which was agreed in 2018 and which accounts for carbon emissions from land and forests. Under it, member states are required to develop baselines, called forest reference levels, showing how much carbon their forests will store over this decade. Member states’ low baselines are not the only the way that the LULUCF regulation has enabled Europe’s forests to lose carbon. It fudged the numbers on how much carbon dioxide (CO₂) was considered stored in forests historically. The LULUCF regulation carefully chose a historical baseline that allowed Europe to ‘hide’ around 40 million tons of CO₂ emissions caused by increased logging. Now, the reference levels presented in the delegated act, which are future baselines, will allow member states and the UK to further reduce the CO₂ stored in their forests by another 40 million tons over the first half of this decade. Taken together, these amount to an 18.7 per cent drop in the carbon sink from early 2000s levels. This jeopardises the integrity of the EU’s 2030 climate target and is not in line with goals to maintain or enhance the carbon stored in forests.”

The problems that face us now are the result of many years of ignoring GHG emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Normally biofuels from forests are considered a renewable source of energy when viewed against the approximately 80-year life cycle of trees. In a situation where the carbon budget for CO₂ that is needed to meet the 1.5°C target has decreased, this position has changed.


Reinhold Pape

In this issue


The clock is ticking to achieve the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. To be clear right from the start: this goal deserves every effort that mankind can pull off. In the name of realism, this is the goal we must focus on now, given the current level of progress in reducing greenhouse gases. However, damage to marine ecosystems will not be avoided even if we reach this goal1. In fact, damage already occurs at current levels of warming, as evidenced by the bleaching of coral reefs2. This may be an inconvenient truth when our current goal is 1.5°C.

Read more