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EU MEP's back LULUCF proposal with 2000-2012 Forest Reference Level

European Union (EU) plans to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and boost absorptions from forests as a way to tackle climate change received Environment Committee (ENVI) MEP support.

A field of flowering flax (Linum usitatissimum), an oilseed and fibre crop.

European Union (EU) Environment Committee (ENVI) MEPs have backed a legislative proposal, under which EU countries that cut down forests must compensate the resulting emissions by new planting or by improved management of existing forests, croplands, and grasslands, to ensure an equivalent absorption of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, the carbon sink.

Land use and forestry include the use of soils, trees, plants, biomass, and timber, and are in a unique position to contribute to a robust climate policy. This is because the sector not only emits greenhouse gases (GHG) but can also remove CO₂ from the atmosphere. EU forests absorb the equivalent of nearly 10 percent of total EU GHG emissions each year.

The legislative proposal, which is part of the climate package presented by the European Commission in July 2016, proposes to integrate GHG emissions and removals from land use, land use-change and forestry (LULUCF) into the 2030 climate and energy framework.

Agriculture and forestry has a very positive overall climate balance and additionally still a huge potential. We should better appreciate this great contribution to the achievement of our climate goals, said lead MEP Norbert Lins (EPP, DE).

MEPs reinforced these provisions by adding that from 2030, member states should boost CO2 absorption to exceed emissions, in line with the EU’s long-term objectives and the Paris Agreement.

Credit extra CO2 removals

If the absorption of CO2 is greater than the emissions from land use for the first 5-year period, this credit can be “banked” and used later, to help achieve goals for the second five-year period. Member states may also use part of such credits to comply with emission reduction targets under the Effort Sharing Regulation.

Harvested wood products, such as construction material or furniture, may also be accounted as removing CO2 as they isolate carbon absorbed by trees during their growth. This is in order to encourage member states to develop the use of harvested wood products and CO2 absorption by deadwood. The cap on the use of forest credits would be increased from 3.5 percent, as proposed by the Commission, to 7 percent to allow additional credits from those categories.

Freshly harvested forest fibre (spruce pulpwood) awaiting collection to begin its transformation process into pulp, paper, biochemical and biofuel products.

Member states will report their emissions annually, with the target of balancing the emissions and removals to be met in two five-year periods: 2021-25 and 2026-2030. If a Member State does not meet its commitment in either period, the shortfall will be deducted from their allocation under the Effort Sharing Regulation.

It is all about the right balance. I don’t want to put forest in a glass case! Forests need to be managed in a sustainable and active way providing timber and climate change mitigation. It is vital that our European system to account for CO2 from cropland, grassland and forest is robust and reliable. Europe is a climate front-runner and a model for other Parties to the Paris Agreement starting to implement a similar accounting system, said Lins.

Forest Reference Level (FRL)

The benchmarks for each Member State will be set on the basis of a “Forest Reference Level” (FRL) – an estimate of the average annual net emissions or absorption resulting from managed forest land within the territory of that Member State. It should be based on documented management practices between 2000 and 2012, say MEPs, a more recent period than proposed by the Commission (1990-2009).

Emissions that are outside the control of Member States (e.g. forest fires) may be excluded from accounting. However, rules limit this exemption in order not to create a loophole. The legislation was approved with 53 votes to 9 and 6 abstentions. It will be put to a vote by the full House during the September plenary session in Strasbourg before negotiations can start with Council.

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