The European Commission has adopted a comprehensive Communication setting out a new framework of actions to protect and restore the world's forests, which host 80% of biodiversity on land, support the livelihoods of around a quarter of the world's population, and are vital to our efforts to fight climate change. The reinforced approach addresses both the supply and demand side of the issue. It introduces measures for enhanced international cooperation with stakeholders and Member States, promotion of sustainable finance, better use of land and resources, sustainable job creation and supply chain management, and targeted research and data collection. It also launches an assessment of possible new regulatory measures to minimise the impact of EU consumption on deforestation and forest degradation.
First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development, said: “Forests are the green lungs of our planet, and we must care for them in the same way we care for our own lungs. We will not meet our climate targets without protecting the world's forests. The EU does not host the world's major primary forests on its territory, but our actions as individuals and our policy choices have a major impact. Today we send an important signal to our citizens and to our partners around the world that the EU is prepared to play a leadership role in this area in the next five years, and beyond.”
The ambitious European approach outlined is a response to the continued widespread destruction of the world's forests; an area of 1.3 million square kilometres was lost between 1990 and 2016, equivalent to approximately 800 football fields every hour. The main drivers of this deforestation are demand for food, feed, biofuel, timber and other commodities. Greenhouse gas emissions linked to deforestation are the second biggest cause of climate change, so protecting forests is a significant part of our responsibility to meet the commitments under the Paris Agreement. From an economic and social perspective, forests support the livelihoods of around 25 % of the global population, and they also embody irreplaceable cultural, societal and spiritual values.
The Communication adopted today has a two-fold objective of protecting and improving the health of existing forests, especially primary forests, and significantly increasing sustainable, biodiverse forest coverage worldwide. The Commission has set out five priorities: Reduce the EU consumption footprint on land and encourage the consumption of products from deforestation-free supply chains in the EU; Work in partnership with producing countries to reduce pressures on forests and to “deforest-proof” EU development cooperation; Strengthen international cooperation to halt deforestation and forest degradation, and encourage forest restoration; Redirect finance to support more sustainable land-use practices; Support the availability of, quality of, and access to information on forests and commodity supply chains, and support research and innovation. Actions to reduce EU consumption and encourage the use of products from deforestation-free supply chains will be explored through the creation of a new Multi-Stakeholder Platform on Deforestation, Forest Degradation and Forest Generation, which will bring together a broad range of relevant stakeholders. The Commission will also encourage stronger certification schemes for deforestation-free products and assess possible demand-side legislative measures and other incentives.
The Commission will work closely with partner countries to help them to reduce pressures on their forests, and will ensure that EU policies do not contribute to deforestation and forest degradation. It will help partners develop and implement comprehensive national frameworks on forests, enhancing the sustainable use of forests, and increasing the sustainability of forest-based value chains. The Commission will also work through international fora - such as the FAO, the UN, the G7 and G20, the WTO and the OECD - to strengthen cooperation on actions and policies in this field. The Commission will continue to ensure that trade agreements negotiated by the EU contribute to the responsible and sustainable management of global supply chains, and encourage trade of agricultural and forest-based products not causing deforestation or forest degradation. The Commission will also develop incentive mechanisms for smallholder farmers to maintain and enhance ecosystem services and embrace sustainable agriculture and forest management.
Any initiative to decrease the inexorable destruction of forests and wooded areas is to be welcomed and it is one that the UK should be a part of - whether it is a member of the EU or not.
This kind of work is the perfect example of where close cooperation between the UK and the EU is needed and for all the ideals outlined in Prime Minister Boris Johnson's first speeches, still missing is a stated desire to be a close ally and friend to the EU, as well as to those other countries, with which the UK is also allied.
What also needs to be kept in mind, certainly within the UK but even more certainly not limited to it, is that in our relentless demand for new homes to accommodate an ever-increasing population, those homes have to be built somewhere.
As few as possible must be built on green field land. There is plenty of brown field land available and that must be used before any other.
Image - Pan Domaci