13 Sep 2017


Brexit, Brussels Daily

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.


Next steps

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.


Quick facts

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.


  • CO2 emissions from intercontinental flights to stay out of EU Emission Trading System until 2020
  • Airlines to go on paying  for CO2 emissions from intra-EU flights only
  • Emission trading revenues  to be earmarked for climate action

Airlines would remain exempt from paying for CO2 emissions from intercontinental flights until 2020 under plans backed by MEPs on Wednesday.

MEPs voted to prolong the intercontinental exemption from EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) rules until December 2020, pending the introduction of a worldwide scheme to offset CO2 emissions from air transport.

However, from 2021 onwards, the aviation sector should receive only half of its EU ETS allowances for free, say MEPs, as against 85% today.

Parliament also wants EU member states to earmark revenue from the auctioning of emission allowances for climate change policies.

The European Commission will have to report on the setting up of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)’s global scheme (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation – CORSIA) and if necessary, propose to amend, delete or extend the intercontinental flight exemption.



“It is sensible that we extend the exemption for international flights to and from the EU until there is greater clarity on the ICAO scheme. However, unlike the European Commission, I believe this exemption must be time limited so that we can be sure that the CORSIA will deliver its objective”, said lead MEP Julie GirlinJ (ECR, UK).

“Aviation contributes 1.3% of global CO2 emissions and that will increase significantly over the coming decades unless effective action is taken. The EU is already leading the way on tackling this issue and we must not let the pace slacken. As the rapporteur for EU ETS phase IV, I am well aware of the need for the aviation sector to do its fair share for emissions reduction” she added.



MEPs introduced an amendment to ensure that in the event of a hard Brexit, EU ETS CO2 allowances given free to UK airlines should be rendered invalid, so as to not to give them an unfair advantage over their EU competitors.


Next steps

The report was approved by 601 votes to 69, with 26 abstentions. Parliament referred the file back to the Environment Committee, so that the EU co-legislators, Parliament and Council of Ministers, can negotiate a common text at the reading once the latter has decided its own position on the file.


Quick facts

Aviation accounts for approximately 2.1% of global CO2 emissions, and intercontinental flights account for around 1.3%. ICAO projections suggest that growth in air traffic will mean that CO2 emissions in 2050 are seven to ten times higher than in 1990. Within the EU, direct CO2 emissions from aviation account for about 3% of total emissions.

The EU was the world’s first region to address CO2 emissions from international aviation, by including aviation in the EU ETS, with effect from 1 January 2012. However, the USA and other nations opposed the inclusion of intercontinental flights in the EU ETS.

The application of the ETS to intercontinental flights was temporarily suspended, until the end of 2016, to allow the ICAO to develop global emission-reduction measures and avoid conflicts with international trading partners.

In October 2016, the ICAO approved a global market-based measure (GMBM), which is to take effect in 2021. In February 2017, the EU Commission proposed a regulation to prolong the exemption for intercontinental flights, gradually reduce the number of aviation CO2 allowances from 2021 onwards, and prepare to implement the GMBM.

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