Climate change: better using EU forests as carbon sinks  

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Learn how the EU wants to use forests' power to absorb CO2 to fight climate change and reduce its carbon footprint even further through our infographics.

The EU has launched several initiatives to reduce emissions. As forests play a crucial role in capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that would otherwise contribute to global warming, the EU is working on rules to increase its carbon sinks.

Parliament voted in favour of an update of the rules governing the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector on 8 June.

Read on to find out key facts and figures about forests in EU countries and what Parliament is proposing to strengthen their capacity to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The importance of forests in the EU: key facts

 

EU forests absorb the equivalent of 7% of the EU's total greenhouse gas emissions every year.

The EU boasts 159 million hectares of forest, covering 43.5% of its land area. Forest coverage can vary considerably from one EU country to another, from just over 10% in Malta to close to 70% in Finland.

In addition to serving as carbon sinks, forests provide numerous ecosystem services: they help to protect the soil from erosion, form part of the water cycle, protect biodiversity by providing a habitat for numerous species, and regulate the local climate.

Forests occupy 43.3% of the EU's land  

What sector are affected by this legislation?


The revised plans concern the land use, land use change and forestry sector, which covers mainly forest land and agricultural land, as well as land whose use has changed to, or from, one of these uses.

This sector does emit greenhouse gases. For example through land-use changes, especially when forests are used for something else like arable land, when trees are cut, or because of the livestock on agriculture land.

However, it is also the only sector that can remove CO2 from the atmosphere, mainly through forests.

Forests help reduce the equivalent of 7% of the annual EU greenhouse gas emissions.  

What is Parliament pushing for?

MEPs want to increase the EU’s natural carbon sinks, for example by restoring wetlands and bogs, planting new forests and halting deforestation. This would lead to an even bigger reduction of EU emissions than the 55% target set for 2030.

The European Commission’s proposal to include non-CO2 emissions from agriculture to the land use sector did not get support from MEPs who think the removals by carbon sinks - volatile and fragile by nature - should not be used to offset other emissions. The priority should remain to drastically cut emissions from other sectors.

The Parliament wants the Commission to set EU countries specific targets for the absorption of CO2 in the land use, land use change and forestry sector sector for every five years starting from 2035.

MEPs also propose allowing member states more flexibility with achieving targets if they have been affected by natural disturbances such as forest fires, pests or storms.

EU efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions


The revision of land use and forestry rules is part of the Fit for 55 package that aims to deliver the EU target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, as set in the Climate Law.

Other pieces of legislation in the package include proposals among others on emissions trading, effort sharing between EU countries, car emissions, renewable energy and energy efficiency.

This article was originally published on 13 September 2017 and is updated from time to time.