Conference “Beyond Wood : the Multiple Services provided by Europe’s Forests”

On 23 May 2016 the conference “Beyond Wood : the Multiple Services provided by Europe’s Forests” took place in Brussels. Several stakeholders took part in the conference, including delegates representing EU institutions, Member States, regional and local authorities, environmental organisations, spatial planners, land owners, forest managers, citizens' groups, businesses and trade associations. EOS was present to this meeting.

The conference was opened by Daniel Calleja Crespo, Director-General for Environment, European Commission, Mr Jyrki Katainen, Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, European Commission, Mr Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and Mr Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, Member of the European Parliament.

Commissioner Mr Karmenu Vella explained that  'beyond wood' means recognising the hidden role that forests play through accounting for the broad  benefits they deliver  to society and our economy in our daily decision making. “Because forests offer much more than fuel. Trees literally clean the air. They improve the quality of waters, and help prevent floods. They stop soil being washed away, and they store carbon, fighting climate change. Forests support a wider variety of plants and animals than any other landscape, and we go there to relax and play. That variety of roles means many opportunities for economic growth. And it means high and low skill jobs, which cannot be delocalised. But forests need to be managed sustainably. Europe is encouraging the rest of world to manage forests sustainably, through tools like FLEGT, our Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade policy.”

Vice-President Mr Katainen reminded how forests are engines for innovation and suppliers for the bio-economy.

The various stakeholders reflecting civil society emphasized that after centuries of deforestation and degradation, during the last 200 years Europe's forests have been recovering to cover some 40 per cent of the EU today. They are currently getting growing attention as a provider of wood for the bioeconomy and for energy generation. But they offer many more services to our economy, our environment and our societies, making them a key asset of Europe's natural capital.

Forests are remarkable ecosystems, a precious natural resource and a source of income and wealth in many respects for EU citizens. Forests capture and store carbon and thus mitigate climate change; the carbon stocks in forests increase every year in Europe. For EU countries it amounts to about 430 million tonnes of CO2 per year for the period 2005-2010. This is equivalent to around 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions during this period. Morever, forests prevent soil erosion; they provide water quality, retention and management; they clean the air; they protect from floods and landslides and support climate adaptation; they represent some of the richest biological areas in Europe; and they support leisure and recreation. In sum, Europe's forests contribute to citizens' health and wellbeing and provide green jobs and growth, all in addition to providing timber and other forest products.

On the other hand, Forests in the EU are also under pressure and are increasingly vulnerable. Demand for wood and biomass is on the rise. Storms, fires and pests are expected to damage forests more frequently and more intensely as a result of climate change. And forests suffer from continued habitat and biodiversity loss, while high nitrogen depositions are a concern. All this is affecting their resilience and ability to secure multiple products and ecosystem services.

There is therefore a need to strike the right balance and to preserve and appropriately manage forest ecosystems and forested landscapes, if we want them to stay in good shape and to provide their many benefits not only to us but also to future generations. In view of the foreseen increase of raw material demand for the wood-working industries, concepts such as Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) have been conceived to deliver multiple benefits at the same time.

The Commission highlighted that 8.2 billion € of public expenditure is being devoted to forestry in the 2014-2020 EU Budget. Of these, inter alia, 2.2 billion have been devoted to afforestation, 1.5 billion to prevention of damage connected to climate change, 1.5 billion to improving the resilience of forests and 830 million to investment in processing and marketing of forests products.

Finally, the Commission remarked that one of the main challenges affecting forestry is often lack of coherent and reliable data. The European Commission recognized the need for more harmonized and comprehensive information on forest. Through various projects, including the Forest Information System for Europe (FISE, still under development)  the Commission has been investigating the possibility to expand the scope of forest inventory systems beyond wood production to include the improved SFM indicators as well as socio-economic information to harmonize National Forest Inventories in order to make them comparable. 

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