EU eyes new targets to protect forests

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The European Commission on Friday published an outline for proposals on how to improve the health of Europe’s forests and harness their ability to fight climate change, including through legally binding targets to restore degraded ecosystems.

This has arrived days after the Commission unveiled a sweeping package of European Union climate policies, including binding targets for countries to grow forests, peatlands and other natural “carbon sinks” that suck CO2 out of the atmosphere.

The Commission on Friday said it would propose legally binding targets to restore damaged forest eco-systems in Europe, and develop a system requiring countries to track data on the health of their forests, gathered from sources including ground-based monitoring.

That would aim to help countries to respond to pressures facing Europe’s forests – including demand for biomass fuel used to produce energy, and climate change impacts like new wildfire patterns or increased likelihood and spread of pests.

If managed well, forests can also help regions to cope with climate change impacts, by absorbing excess rainfall and cooling the surrounding area during periods of high heat.

But environment campaigners said the plans failed to address the impact on EU forests from demand for energy from biomass – such as wood pellets and chips.

“The proposed remedies are too timid to face up to the challenge,” said Kelsey Perlman, campaigner at NGO Fern.

The Commission on Wednesday proposed tighter sustainability rules for biomass energy plants to attempt to ensure wood is only burned for energy as a last resort. NGOs said the proposal did not go far enough.

Wood-based industries support roughly 3.6 million jobs in the EU, and some groups representing forest owners and farmers said on Friday the bloc’s plan failed to offer clarity on economic support for the sector.