Climate change : plans to help forests remove CO2 

  • EU countries to compensate forest losses by planting new trees
  • From 2030, there should be more CO2absorptions than emissions
  • EU forests now absorb nearly 10% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions

Plans to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and boost absorptions from forests as a way to tackle climate change received committee support on Tuesday.

EU forests now absorb nearly 10% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions ©AP Images/European Union-EP  

Environment MEPs backed a legislative proposal, under which EU countries that cut down forests must compensate the resulting emissions by new planting or by improved management of existing forests, croplands and grasslands, to ensure an equivalent absorption of CO2in the atmosphere.

MEPs reinforced 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, may also be accounted as removing CO2 as they isolate carbon absorbed by trees during their growth. This is in order to encourage member states to develop the use of harvested wood products and CO2 absorption by deadwood. The cap on the use of forest credits would be increased from 3.5% (as proposed by the Commission) to 7% to allow additional credits from those categories.

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.



"Agriculture and forestry has a very positive overall climate balance and additionally still a huge potential. We should better appreciate this great contribution to the achievement of our climate goals" said lead MEP Norbert Lins (EPP, DE).   

"It is all about the right balance. I don't want to put forest in a glass case! Forests need to be managed in a sustainable and active way providing timber and climate change mitigation."" he said.

"It is vital that our European system to account for CO2 from cropland, grassland and forest is robust and reliable. Europe is a climate front-runner and a model for other Parties to the Paris Agreement starting to implement a similar accounting system" he added.

Next steps

The legislation was approved with 53 votes to 9 and 6 abstentions. It will be put to a vote by the full House during the September plenary session in Strasbourg before negotiations can start with Council.

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 in order not to create 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.