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European forests to help tackle climate change

15 December 2017, 00:59 CET
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European forests to help tackle climate change

Forest - Photo by Ross

(BRUSSELS) - The European Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement Thursday on plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions and boost absorption from forests as a way to tackle climate change.

The provisional agreement was on a key legislative proposal for implementing the EU's 2030 climate objectives – on accounting of emissions from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF).

"After long and complex negotiations, we have found an agreement to include emissions and removals from land use, land use-change and forests in our collective efforts towards the 2030 objectives and in line with our commitment under the Paris Agreement," said Climate Action Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete: "This is yet another example of Europe's determination to turn the Paris Agreement into a reality, through concrete policies and measures."

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 emits greenhouse gases but can also serve to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. EU forests absorb the equivalent of nearly 10% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions each year.

The regulation on land use, land use change and forestry will incorporate greenhouse gas emissions and removals related to agricultural land and forestry into the EU's climate framework from 2021. The new rules will enhance the role of land and forests as sinks of carbon and will incentivise their productive and sustainable use, enhancing the bio-based economy and climate-smart agriculture.

The text of the agreement provides robust EU-wide accounting rules for LULUCF activities, developed to ensure the proper and consistent accounting of emissions and removals from 2021-2030. As a compromise, and given the lack of current data on wetlands, accounting for this sector will become mandatory for the 2026-2030 period, unless it is found appropriate to postpone the mandatory inclusion by five years in light of the experience gained with the use of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) refinement to the 2006 guidelines for national greenhouse gas inventories.

The 'no-debit rule' remains the cornerstone element of the regulation. This is a binding commitment whereby all member states will have to guarantee that their total emissions from this sector are in balance and do not exceed CO2 removals. Afforestation and enhanced supervision of national forests, croplands and grasslands are examples of ways to generate further carbon absorption.

A new EU governance process has been devised for the determination of national forest management reference levels. It has been decided that those levels will be set on the basis of the historical reference period from 2000 to 2009.

The new regulation includes the flexibilities suggested in the original proposal to help member states meet their 'no-debit' commitments.

The specific circumstances of member states will be catered for by the additional managed forest land flexibility proposed by the Council.

This new compensation mechanism will contain up to 360 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent and will be available to all member states over the 2021-2030 period.

A number of strict conditions must be fulfilled for its use, in order to preserve the environmental integrity of the regulation. Compliance with the 'no-debit rule' by the EU as a whole is the most important of all. Furthermore, EU countries may only receive compensation on the condition that their national forests still generate a sink and up to a pre-established amount calculated for each member state on the basis of their average sink over the 2000-2009 period.

Both co-legislators have agreed to grant additional compensation of 10 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent to Finland for the 2021-2030 period in recognition of the country's special circumstances in this sector.

The provisional agreement (reached in 'trilogue' negotiations between the Parliament, Council and Commission) must now be formally approved by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers. Following approval, the regulation will be published in the EU's Official Journal and enter into force 20 days later.

General approach on the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) regulation

Current decision on accounting rules for LULUCF

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