EU Plans to Plant Three Billion Trees Under Forestry Strategy

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The European Union is fleshing out the part of its climate plan to absorb more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and promote biodiversity through the use of forests.

The bloc is proposing to use the Common Agricultural Policy to set up payment schemes for the owners of woodland, while boosting the monitoring of existing forest, which makes up around two-fifths of the continent. The European Commission, the EU’s regulator, is also planning to plant 3 billion trees in an effort to absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere.

Lobbyists for the timber industry are already pushing back, wary of what the stronger restrictions might mean for the 640 billion-euro ($756 billion) industry that employs about 3.6 million people. Tension had been building already after scientists at the Commission’s Joint Research Centre warned that growing demand for timber products risk derailing Europe’s climate goals by damaging an important carbon sink.

“Environmental ambition can go hand-in-hand with economic prosperity,” said Janusz Wojciechowski, the EU’s commissioner for agriculture. “Forests are also the lungs of our society and economy: they secure livelihoods in rural areas, provide essential products for our citizens, and hold a deep social value through their nature.”

Some of the 3 billion trees would be planted within the EU’s cities as well as in agricultural fields, a senior EU official said Thursday.

Heated Debate

The environmental lobby WWF Europe welcomed the Commission’s effort to strengthen the protection of forests, yet criticized the strategy for omitting a mandatory set of monitoring criteria that would determine if a woodland is sustainably managed.

“What we have seen lately is really very big opposition from agricultural ministers from many member states on all the forest-related issues,” said Sabien Leemans, senior biodiversity policy officer at WWF, in an interview. “It’s a very heated debate.”

The proposals make up part of the EU’s efforts to cut pollution at least 55% from 1990 levels by 2030, and to be climate neutral by the middle of the century. The bloc unveiled a host of new rules and regulations this week that bring almost all economic sectors into line with that vision. New combustion-engine cars for example, will be banned by 2035.

Still, a number of elements of the package are controversial, such as plans to expand the bloc’s carbon market to include heating and road transport -- something that may hit the poorest in society hardest. Member states have been critical, with Hungary saying that the choice of tools was “untenable and unacceptable.”

Potentially years of tough negotiations now beckon, with the proposals needing approval from the European Parliament and from member states in the EU Council to become binding. Each institution is entitled to propose amendments.

The EU said this week that it wants to increase the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by “sinks” such as forests and grasslands -- to 310 million tons a year by 2030 from around 270 million tons currently.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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