Europe’s forests in the sustainability spotlight

Forests play an invaluable role in tackling many of today’s challenges. This was one of the widely accepted and recognised conclusions, when Members of the European Parliament, forest owner representatives and other forest-related stakeholders exchanged their views with Phil Hogan, the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, during a breakfast meeting at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. 

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On 25 November 2015, nearly 30 participants, comprising a large number of Members of European Parliament (MEP), as well as several forest owner representatives and other forest-related stakeholders, accepted an invitation by MEP Elisabeth Köstinger, Chair of the working group on Sustainable Forest Management within the EP Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development, to a breakfast meeting at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Welcoming the participants, Ms. Köstinger introduced the topic of the meeting, underlining the vital role of Europe’s forests, such as mitigating climate change, establishing and fostering a competitive bio-based economy, strengthening the rural sector as well as maintaining and enhancing biodiversity. Ahead of the climate change summit of the 21st UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris, she underlined that “forests are indispensable when it comes to reaching the climate and energy targets. Specifically, Europe’s own forest resources should be used for tackling climate change.”

Addressing the audience in a keynote speech, the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, placed Europe’s forests in the spotlight for contributing to solutions for many of today’s challenges: “Forestry represents a key sector in the transition towards a low-carbon and climate friendly economy, and is one of the main sectors that keep our rural areas vibrant and sustainable.” During the open discussion he particularly underlined the role of forest owners and farmers in the context of environmental protection saying, “if they don’t do it – nobody is going to do it.”

This was followed by a number of stakeholder contributions. Philipp zu Guttenberg, Vice-President of the Confederation of European Forest Owners (CEPF), clearly emphasised the multifunctionality, integrity and sustainability of Europe’s forests: “Our forests and management have much to offer in addressing today’s challenges. The resources we manage can be compared to a Swiss army knife with a view to climate change, energy and the multiple segments within the bioeconomy sector.”

Reinhardt Neft, Vice-President of the European State Forest Association (EUSTAFOR), placed the increasingly more diverse and specific demands by society at the centre of his statement. “We increasingly observe that the important productive function of forests is neglected. We should not export our problems to other parts of the world by importing timber in order to set aside our forests. Instead, we need to use and preserve our forests at the same time. Through sustainable, multifunctional forest management, Europe’s forests prove this is possible.”

“Forest owners and managers have a key role to play in enhancing biodiversity conservation, given that 40% of Europe’s overall landmass and half of Natura 2000 protected areas are covered with forests,” said Luc Bas, Director of the European Regional Office of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), when speaking at the event. “Conservation and the use of forests can lead to competing demands on forest ecosystems, but we believe that an open exchange between conservationists and forest owners is critical to enhance mutual understanding and work towards common goals. IUCN will continue to provide a platform for strengthening this important dialogue.”

Providing a forest-related industry perspective, Patrizio Antonicoli, Secretary-General of the European Confederation Woodworking Industries (CEI-Bois), pointed out the evidence of the inter-dependence of forest owners and forest-related industries. He encouraged the Commissioner and the MEPs to develop policies to further stimulate the use of wood, particularly for construction, as a sustainable way to decarbonise the economy and to tackle climate change.

Various MEPs seized the opportunity to share their views during the open discussion. There was a common understanding that forests and forestry do indeed have a vital role to play. Commissioner Hogan concluded that “it is increasingly clear to a growing number of EU policy-makers that forests and forestry hold many of the answers to our shared societal and environmental challenges.”

The working group on Sustainable Forest Management of the European Parliament Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development kicked-off with this meeting. Further interesting meetings and debates within this forum will follow under the auspices of MEP Elisabeth Köstinger.

For further information about the European Parliament Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development, please visit: http://ebcd.org/intergroup/