Climate change: MEPs back plans to help forests remove CO2
- Up to 2030, CO2-emissions and absorption have to be balanced out
- From 2030, there should be more CO2 absorption than emissions
- Robust accounting system needed to underpin EU’s role as climate frontrunner, MEPs say
Plans to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and boost absorption from forests as a way to tackle climate change received Parliament’s support on Wednesday.
MEPs backed a legislative proposal, under which EU countries have to ensure a balance in CO2 emissions and absorption from forests, croplands and grasslands.
MEPs bolstered 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.
Extra removals of CO2 = credits
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, also remove CO2, as they store carbon absorbed by trees as they grow. Including them will encourage member states to develop the use of harvested wood products. The cap on the use of forest management credits would be increased from 3.5% (as proposed by the Commission) to 7% to allow additional appreciation from this category.
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.
“With this regulation, we lay the foundations for a broad recognition and support of our European forests, in order to implement the Paris Agreement. A sustainable management of forests is key. Through this we can achieve both a positive impact on climate change mitigation and a boost for our bio-economy!” said lead MEP Norbert Lins (EPP, DE).
“We are setting up a robust and serious accounting system, which could be a role model for the rest of the world. I am convinced that this system will not jeopardise the great multi-functionality of agriculture and forestry” he added.
The report was adopted with 532 votes to 144 and 20 abstentions. Parliament referred the file back to the Environment committee, so that EU co-legislators, Parliament and Council of Ministers, can enter into negotiations to agree on a common text in first reading once the latter has set its own position on the file.
The benchmarks for each Member State will be set on the basis of a “forest reference level” – 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 to avoid creating a loophole.
Land use and forestry include our 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, but can also remove CO₂ from the atmosphere. EU forests absorb the equivalent of nearly 10% of total EU greenhouse gas 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 into the 2030 climate and energy framework.