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Key forest-rich countries fail to acknowledge climate impact of increased logging, says EU expert group

Most EU countries are planning to significantly increase the logging of their forests. This will reduce forests’ ability to store carbon, meaning there could be 400 million tonnes more carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere between 2021-2025 than previously thought says an EU Expert Group who examined Member States’ National Forestry Accounting Plans. Fern, Fingo and the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation call on the EU to stop allowing Member States subsidise industrial wood burning.

A single-grip cut-to-length (CTL) harvester working in a mature pine stand in south-central Sweden.

A single-grip cut-to-length (CTL) harvester working in a mature pine stand in south-central Sweden.

According to the findings of an EU Expert Group who examined Member States’ National Forestry Accounting Plans, key forested countries, including Finland, Sweden, Slovenia, Latvia, and Poland have been unable to show that they are correctly reporting the climate impact of such increased logging. The 400 million tonnes of additional carbon dioxide (CO2) is more than the annual emissions of France and Finland combined.

According to Fern, EU-based forests and rights NGO that was represented in the Expert Group, the findings are an “embarrassment” to countries such as Sweden and Finland, who present themselves as climate leaders and are particularly relevant to the Finnish public who are preparing to vote in General Elections on April 14.

This is a moment of truth for Finnish forest and climate policy. The government submitted a plan to increase harvests by more than a quarter but didn’t mention the climate impact. After a thorough review, the Expert Group didn’t buy it. Elections are close, and this is a damning indictment of the Sipilä government’s risky climate policy. We now need a new era of politicians that stand up for climate and forests, said Otto Bruun, representative of the Finnish Society for Nature Conservation (Suomen Luonnonsuojeluliiton Keskustoimisto), also a member of the EU Expert Group.

Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF)

According to a statement, the Expert Group scrutinised these plans as part of the EU Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF) Regulation. The Regulation was approved last year as part of the EU’s Climate and Energy Package for 2030. It requires that EU Member States account CO2 emissions from land and forestry, with the aim of ensuring that they remove more CO2 than they produce.

As part of this Regulation, Member States are obliged to produce National Forestry Accounting Plans that sets the approach for what carbon dioxide emissions from their forestry operations they are accountable for.

These plans are highly technical and often hard to understand but scrutinising them is crucial to tackling climate change because unless we have healthy natural forests removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it will be impossible to meet the global aim of keeping temperature increases below 1.5 degrees. The planned increase in harvesting will equal an unprecedented reduction in the carbon sink, and that is a calamity for the climate. The EU is subsidising the burning of forests for bioenergy on a massive scale. Emissions are meant to be measured at the point of harvest (in the LULUCF Regulation) rather than the point of combustion. It is clear from these draft reports that this is not happening adequately, said Hannah Mowat, Fern’s campaigns coordinator, who represented the NGO in the Expert Group.

Some findings from National Forestry Accounting Plans highlighted by the three NGO’s include:

  • Poland would increase tree harvesting by 44 percent but was only planning on accounting only 12 percent of the related emissions to the EU
  • Finland would increase harvesting by a quarter but did not plan on accounting any of these emissions to the EU
  • Slovenia’s proposed forest management reference level for years 2021-2025 would mean a more than 50 percent reduction in the forest management sink compared to 2000-2009
  • Latvia would be harvesting trees so intensively that their forests will be a net source of emissions during 2021-2025
  • Sweden argued that harvesting all available forest growth would be sustainable, essentially aiming to increase harvest by 10 percent without accounting for the climate impact
  • Slovakia has increased harvesting intensity by 97 percent in the last 20 years, leading to a significant decline in the carbon sink, which is projected to continue in the coming decades.
  • Ireland would be harvesting trees so intensively that their “forests” will be a net source of emissions from 2018 onwards
  • Estonia’s forest sink will be reduced due to increased harvesting of mature forests

A forest harvest site in Sweden. According to Fern, Fingo and the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation, the EU needs to stop allowing the subsidised industrial burning of wood for energy as this drives increased forest logging.

Fern, Fingo and the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation call on the EU to stop allowing EU Member States to subsidise industrial wood burning, and to redirect funds to support forest protection and restoration. The expert group conclusions will now be considered by the European Commission, which will communicate the necessary changes to Member States. Member States then have until the end of 2019 to revise their plans.

These land-use accounting plans are the first to be proposed since the adoption of the Paris Agreement. It is therefore essential that Member States take the message from the Expert Group seriously and improve their plans so forests are allowed to help rather than hinder efforts to meet the Paris goals. From the beginning of July, Finland will hold the EU Presidency. They will need to lead the whole of the EU in actions to stay within 1.5 degrees temperature limit and yet their Forest Plan is to increase harvesting! Finland and the EU must set a good precedent to rest of the world and plan to protect and restore their forests, said Hanna Aho, spokesperson for Finnish development NGOs Fingo, also a member of the EU Expert Group.

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