An Updated Forest Strategy

A gradual impact on forest-based industries can be anticipated over coming years, as the EU’s strategy to extend forest policy from the forest out to the whole forest-products economy.

Not only updated forest-management principles, but also extracting greater value from forest–based products and ensuring that the sector fully contributes to Europe’s burgeoning bio-based economy, are the chief objectives of the Commission’s new EU Forest Strategy.

Presented in September 2013, the Strategy has implications not only for forest management bodies but for forest-based industries as well. These include woodworking, furniture, pulp and paper manufacturing and converting, and printing.

The Communication is accompanied by a Blueprint for the EU Forest-based Industries, which is in the form of a Staff Working Document. This indicates activities that could be undertaken to help EU Forest-based Industries fulfil their potential.

Context

While forest policy is, for the most part, a Member State competence, some aspects are coordinated at EU level in the EU Forest Strategy. The EU also contributes to the implementation of sustainable forest management - and to Member States’ decisions on forests - through certain policies.

Recent examples include the Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs, the Resource

Efficiency Roadmap, Rural Development Policy, Industrial Policy, the EU Climate and Energy Package (with its 2020 targets) and the Biodiversity and Bioeconomy Strategies.

The existing, non-binding EU Forest Strategy dates back to 1998. The Commission felt that the Strategy should be updated to take into account “new challenges” such as climate change, renewable energy and the green economy.

Guiding Principles

Europe has a long tradition of sustainable forest management, which is reflected in the

FOREST EUROPE principles applied by Member States’ policies and supported by the EU, in particular through rural development policy. This concept needs to be implemented by forest managers on the ground.

Member States are bound by FOREST EUROPE commitments to manage their forests sustainably, according to their national forest policies and legislation. When implementing this strategy, they need to address sustainable forest management baselines, improve information exchange and disseminate good practice.

The new Forest Strategy reflects this, and is fundamentally based on the concept of sustainable forest management. The Strategy also underlines that forest-linked EU policies and funding programmes (e.g. LULUCF, Plant Health Law, Rural Development Fund, LIFE+, Climate Change Adaptation Strategy) should fully be taken into account in national forest policies.

Priorities

The Communication focuses on eight priority areas based on three principles: sustainable forest management, resource efficiency and global forest responsibility. The eight priority areas are as follows:

Societal Objectives

The Commission wants Member States to use rural development funding to support the implementation of sustainable forest management for awareness-raising, training and communication between local forest holders and authorities. The Commission would revise the conditions for block exemptions in the forest sector.

Competitiveness and Sustainability

The Commission, together with Member States and stakeholders, would promote the use of wood as “a sustainable, renewable, climate and environment-friendly raw material”. The Commission would also facilitate access to third markets for EU forest-based industry products and raw materials and promote consumer information on furniture.

The Commission would also develop EU sustainable forest management criteria applicable in different policy contexts by the end of 2014. It would also launch a cumulative cost assessment of EU legislation affecting forest-based industry value chains in 2014.

Climate Change

Member States should demonstrate by mid-2014 in the context of their information on LULUCF actions how they intend to increase their forests’ mitigation potential through increased removals and reduced emissions, including by cascading use of wood. Member States should also demonstrate how they enhance their forests’ adaptive capacities and resilience under the EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change and the Green Paper on Forest Protection and information.

Ecosystem Services

The Strategy puts the emphasis on prevention rather than damage mitigation and restoration and notes that certain threats require action at EU-level. It sets out that the Commission will monitor Member State progress for the development of Forest Management Plans (FMPs).

Member States should develop a conceptual framework for mapping and assessing the state of forest ecosystems and their services by 2020. They should implement the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and demonstrate that they fully implement EU nature legislation as well as integrate sustainable forestry practices in their River Basin Management Plans.

Forest Knowledge Base

The Commission calls for a Forest Information System to be set up and for Europe-wide harmonised information on forests to be collected (including data on forest reproductive material).

New and Innovative Forestry Products


Horizon 2020 and the European Innovation Partnership on Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability would allow the transfer of scientific and technological knowledge to forest practice and the market. The Commission would have the coordinating role for the dissemination of good practices and research results.

Cooperation and Coordination

The Strategy highlights the central role of the Standing Forestry Committee within the EU forest governance structure and announces that the Commission will create a European Forest Bureau Network to develop harmonised criteria for National Forest Inventories (NFI). A Eurobarometer survey will assess public perception of forests by 2015.

Forests from a Global Perspective

The Strategy stresses that EU and Member State policies should be consistent to commitments on forest-related issues at international level. It also points out that the Commission will assess and consider policy options to limit the environmental impact of EU consumption of products and raw materials that are likely to contribute to deforestation and forest degradation outside the EU. The Commission also plans to review the EU Timber Regulation by 2015.

Plan of Action

The Commission and Member States will ensure the Strategy’s implementation and follow-up, paying particular attention to stakeholder involvement. In order to set milestones for meeting the 2020 forest objectives and to address the strategic priorities of actions in forest policy and forest-related policies, the Commission will work with the Standing Forestry Committee to reinforce links with related EU policies.

Other areas where Member States should advance further, such as preventing forest fires, combating pests and diseases, promoting sustainable wood and regional/cross-regional cooperation, will be identified. Rationalising available resources and improving coordination between EU and national funding can contribute to the strategy’s better implementation, says the Commission.

The Blueprint

The Commission Communication is accompanied by a Staff Working Document, which provides information on forestry in the EU and a great deal of contextual detail. It examines for example the impact of the existing EU Forestry Strategy and the main challenges for the future. These include:

• Stimulating Growth: Bio-based products would allow the industries to contribute to a bio-based economy.

• Resource and Energy Efficiency: The "cascade" principle should allow a more effective use of EU wood.

• Raw Materials: Wood recycling should be further promoted -currently only paper recycling is widely applied.

• An improvement to logistics would allow the sector to be more competitive.

• Structural Adaptation: The forestry products sector is composed mainly be SMEs or micro-enterprises. If they cooperate both upstream and downstream they could achieve economies of scale.

• Innovation and RTD: Horizon 2020 can help to the development of new products and processes.

• Education, Training and Skills: There is a lack of young entrants coming through. Social dialogues and could address this issue.

• Coherence of EU Legislation: Policies should be consistent and coherent so that the environment for economic operators is predictable.

• EU Climate Policy: Wood-based panels and paper are within the scope of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). Along with sawn wood, their stored carbon can now also be accounted under the Land use, Land-use Change and Forestry Emissions Agreement (LULUCF).

• International Competition: The EU’s trade agreements can help improve market access and address abuses of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules through trade-defence instruments.
 
• Information: Better external information could improve the communication of the sectors to the public and consequently improve the image of the sector, which is currently rather negative
The Blueprint also provides an overview of EU funding. Importantly, there has been a considerable increase in the 7th Framework Programme and Horizon 2020. Indicatively, under Horizon 2020 (2014-2020), the Commission has proposed to allocate some €4,152 million to the societal challenge entitled "Food security, sustainable agriculture, marine and maritime research and the bio-economy" which includes forest research.

Next Steps

A review will be carried out by 2018 to assess progress in implementing the strategy. The European Parliament and the Council are invited to endorse this strategy and to express their views on its implementation.

The Council plans to adopt Conclusions on the Commission's Communication on a new EU Forest Strategy under the Lithuanian Presidency, which runs until the end of the year.