The Commission proposes a Forest Monitoring Law that will fill existing gaps in information on Europe’s forests and create a comprehensive forest knowledge base, to enable Member States, forest owners and forest managers to improve their response to growing pressures on forests and strengthen their resilience.
Forests are an essential ally in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss, and crucial for flourishing rural areas and the bio-economy. Unfortunately, Europe’s forests are under many different pressures, including climate change and unsustainable human activity.
Better monitoring will enable measures to make forests more resilient to transboundary threats from pests, droughts and forest fires that are exacerbated by climate change, enable new business models, such as carbon farming, and support compliance with agreed EU legislation. Ultimately, it will help strengthen the capacity of forests to fulfil their multiple environmental and socio-economic functions, including their role as natural carbon sinks.
Better data, greater resilience, new economic opportunities
The monitoring framework will enable the collection and exchange of timely and comparable forest data obtained through a combination of earth observation technology and ground-based measurements. Building on existing national efforts, the framework will provide better data and knowledge for decision-making and policy implementation, including more up-to-date information on natural disturbances and forest disasters in all Member States.
Currently, available information on the state of forests and the use of forest resources and services is scattered and incomplete, data on EU forests are often outdated and produced using divergent definitions, leading to significant knowledge gaps. A comprehensive monitoring system will address these inconsistencies.
The framework will help create integrated forest governance, ensuring cooperation between Member States and encouraging them to establish long-term forest plans, taking into account all relevant policy dimensions and the multifunctionality of forests. The proposal does not introduce new direct administrative requirements for companies, forest owners and forest holders.
The framework will bring economic benefits as it will help forest managers to market their ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, under the EU Carbon Sequestration Certification Framework. Based on more credible and accessible data, forest managers and owners will be able to develop new business opportunities that will provide additional income and, at the same time, expand carbon farming and contribute to climate mitigation and adaptation. The new law will also support a new market for digital monitoring service providers, including a large number of innovative SMEs and start-ups.
Finally, the proposal will support the implementation of other key legislation, such as the LULUCF Regulation, the Habitats and Birds Directives, the Deforestation Regulation, as well as the Carbon Sequestration Certification and the Nature Restoration Act once adopted by the co-legislators.
As part of its broader work under the EU Forestry Strategy, the Commission also adopted today a proposal for an updated EU forest governance, which aims to create a renewed, inclusive and interdisciplinary expert group of Member States competent in all forestry and forest-related matters, reflecting all the environmental, social and economic objectives of the EU Forestry Strategy.
Managing increasing pressures on forests
The proposal comes in the context of growing pressures on forests. The Commission today publishes a report on forest fires in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa 2022, which shows that almost 900,000 hectares of land in the EU burned in 2022, roughly the size of Corsica.
For the third year in a row, unprecedented forest fires caused major environmental and economic damage in the EU and tragic loss of life. While most fires (96%) are caused by human actions, they are exacerbated by increased fire danger conditions driven by climate change. It is a warning sign of what global warming may bring in the coming years, as temperatures rise and droughts become more pronounced in many European countries. The report also shows that prevention measures play an important role in reducing the frequency and impact of forest fires, and that up-to-date knowledge is key to ensuring this.
The proposal will now be examined by the European Parliament and the Council under the ordinary legislative procedure.
Forests provide invaluable environmental, climatic and socio-economic benefits. They act as centres and habitats of biodiversity, release oxygen and filter air, regulate water flows, prevent erosion and are indispensable for climate change adaptation and mitigation. They are a cornerstone of the transition to a climate-neutral Europe, the circular bio-economy and a healthy society. According to Commission studies, extended forest-based value chains provide raw materials such as timber, food, medicinal plants, cork and resin and currently support 4.5 million jobs in the EU.
However, many EU forests are not in a generally good condition. They are suffering from biodiversity loss and are heavily affected by climate change, exacerbating and adding to other destructive pressures such as pests, pollution and disease. Climate change also generates conditions such as long periods of drought and heat that are likely to increase the extent and intensity of forest fires in the EU in the coming years. The consequences are increasingly affecting the stability and productivity of forests, while at the same time demand for forest products and services is growing.
Reports provided by Member States under the Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry Regulation (LULUCF) show that in several key areas of the European Union forests as natural carbon sinks are declining. In certain areas, forests have become a source of CO2 emissions.
To stay the course, the EU must strengthen the resilience of natural ecosystems, increase their capacity to help us adapt to climate change and maintain their productive capacity to ensure lasting food and material security.
The current initiatives and their targets are based on solutions provided by nature as our best ally in the fight against climate change. They will help the EU to achieve climate neutrality by increasing the amount of carbon removed by natural sinks. This will also help the EU meet its international commitments under both the Paris Agreement and the Kunming-Montreal Biodiversity Framework.
Source: European Commission