Enhancing the EU forest policy framework through a stronger EU forest strategy post 2020

Mar 31, 2020

Cepi position on the new EU Forest Strategy post-2020           

European forests and the forest-based sector provide multiple solutions that contribute to Europe’s part in keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees by strengthening its role in the circular bioeconomy. The Confederation of European Paper Industries (Cepi) and members welcome the inclusion of new EU Forest Strategy as a part of the European Commission contribution to climate change mitigation and the COP26 in Glasgow and applauds the deserved spotlight the new strategy gets in the European Green Deal.

European forests are only indirectly regulated by the EU in the context of forest-related policies developed under conferred competences, or by means of coordination of national forestry policies at EU level via targeted action plans, such as the EU Forest Strategy 2014-2020. Keeping in mind the complex competence division on forests and forestry, and likelihood that the EU initiatives impacting forests and the forest-based sector are projected to increase in near future, Cepi and its members suggest some key principles and instruments to be included in the new strategy to strengthen the policy coherence between the new EU Forest Strategy and 2050 Climate Strategy[1] as well as the updated Bioeconomy Strategy[2]. Furthermore, these tools would play a role in making the future strategy more meaningful and ambitious than its predecessor.

During the last decades the European forest resources have increased in terms of forest coverage and growing stock. Viable industries with continuing long-term investments in sustainable forest management ensure healthy and resilience of forest ecosystems. Sustainability is at the core of the forest-based industries. European multifunctional forests and sustainable management ensure the provision of the ecosystem services e.g. raw material supply, clean air, water, biodiversity and improve the health and resilience of forests that face a growing number threats (e.g. drought, forest fires, pests, floods, erosion) caused by the climate change. Therefore, new EU Forest Strategy should take into account the entire forest-based value chain and provide the sector with appropriate tools to enhance its ability to meet the growing demands of the societies. To achieve this it would be essential to strengthen the cooperation of the actors involved and use the expertise stemming from the Standing Forestry Committee, DG GROW expert group on forest-based industries and the Civil Dialogue Group on Forestry and Cork.

The new EU Strategy should build on the holistic concept of Sustainable Forest Management[3] developed under the FOREST EUROPE process. Currently the definition, principles and criteria have been embedded into national legislation and guidelines as well as voluntary systems such as forest certification in place. However, different EU sectoral policies identified the need for a sustainability framework and tempted to define criteria for it, partially in an inconsistent way.

Therefore, the new Forest Strategy should give a mandate to the Standing Forestry Committee to establish the European risk-based approach and sustainability criteria for forest management adopted in the recast of the Renewable Energy Directive as a non-end-use specific sustainability system for forest biomass.  The EU Forest Strategy should guide relevant EU policies in applying the system as appropriate. This two-step approach to minimise the risk of using unsustainable forest biomass respects the complex competence division of Member States and the EU as it comes to forests and forestry.

Consequently, in the near future, the new EU Forest Strategy could encourage the European Commission to conduct fitness checks of the legislations already agreed to ensure that contradicting policies hindering the development of the sector would be reviewed and possibly revised.   In the long-term, fostered cooperation on forestry could be enhanced via the establishment of e.g. pilot projects or preparatory actions to further develop existing networks such as the Standing Forestry Committee and Civil Dialogue Group on Forestry and Cork. These pilots or actions would improve knowledge on the possible impacts of strategic decisions affecting forests and the forest-based sector.

Currently in the EU, approximately 65%[4] of the forest growth is harvested, meaning that there is a constant accumulation of biomass that could be sustainably used to enhance the development of the circular bioeconomy across Europe. Keeping and attracting the investments in Europe is of utmost importance as it comes to building green growth in Europe. Fostering the knowledge-base on the availability of forest resources with socio-economic indicators and science-based data on biodiversity should be further developed as a part of the new EU Forest Strategy. This work should build on the achievements of the last strategy in which the Forest Information System for Europe (FISE) was established.

In order to implement the European Green Deal successfully, the new Forest Strategy should focus on the acknowledgement and the uptake of all climate benefits of the forests and the forest-based sector. Too narrow focus on the sink function of forests undermines the other climate benefits, namely the increased substitution of fossil-based materials and energy as well as further development of carbon storage in forests and products. The recently published EU Forest-based industries vision 2050 describes sustainable pathways to a climate friendly future. New innovative materials and products have a potential to contribute replacing traditional plastics in packaging and in other sectors. Cepi would like to highlight that besides paper and board, e.g. wood-based textiles, bio-chemicals and other everyday commodities can be done by the pulp and paper industry, in a sustainable, circular manner.

Cepi believes that by including the above mentioned instruments in the new strategy and/or its action plan, the strategy would not only guide forest-related actions in all EU forest-related proposals but also bring added value compared to the current strategy and its multiannual implementation plan (Forest Map).