For the EU to deliver on the commitments it made at the UN Paris climate change talks in December 2015 various new pieces of legislation need to be put in place.
One area where new legislation is needed is in relation to Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry, known by its initials as LULUCF.
At an EU level 10% of our carbon emissions are absorbed by our forest cover so how we manage and use our forests is crucially important. If we do it badly then we damage our efforts to tackle climate change, do it well and we enhance our efforts.
As well as our forests playing a key role so do other forms of land use such as agriculture and wetlands. Wetlands, including peat lands, are not found in all EU countries but where they do exist they absorbed staggeringly high amounts of carbon. For instance there is more CO2 stored in the peat lands of northern England than in all of the forests of the UK, France and Germany together.
The first draft of the proposed legislation was prepared by the European Commission and was made public in July 2016. The European Parliament then began the process of amending this proposal, adopting its initial position in the Environment Committee meeting on July 2017 and then finalising its position with a report passed at the September 2017 sitting of the Parliament.
Once the Parliament had a position the trilogue began with a series of meetings being held between the Commission, the Parliament’s negotiating team and the Council. The Council is the 28 member states of the EU represented during the second half of 2017 by Estonia.
Thursday 14th December began with a four-hour meeting that resulted in a compromise position on LULUCF being reached. As with all such negotiations no party gets everything they had wished for but we in the Socialist and Democratic Group (S&D) were pleased with what we managed to achieve especially as our three priorities were all agreed:
The reference period was agreed as being from 2000 to 2009.Future forest management and use will be judged against this time frame and this is an improvement on the Parliament position which was for 2000 to 2012.This extra three years, if it had been agreed, would have meant approximately 50 mil ton of CO2 emissions never appearing as emissions because they would have been embedded in the baseline against which we judge our action.
Wetlands, including peat lands, will be included mandatorily in the accounting as of 2026 which was not in the Commission, nor Council proposal. This means in practice that if wetlands, including peat lands, are restored then the country concerned will have improved its climate action. This gives an incentive for the restoration of these important ecosystems, as every ton of CO2 counts.
The proposal recognises the role of long-life harvested wood products and deadwood, both of which have a potential of storing carbon for long enough to be relevant for our climate action. Increasing the portfolio of products to which wood harvested in our forests goes, e.g. to long-lived products (e.g. building in wood) can help countries improve their climate action in the sector of land use.
The S&D recognise that the legislation falls short on forestland delivery to climate action and that environmental groups are right to raise concerns in this area.
On the other hand, this new LULUCF legislation means that how we use land is being recognised as of key importance in the tackling climate change.
Commenting on today’s conclusion to the LULUCF legislative process Paul Brannen MEP, the shadow rapporteur for the S&D Group, said:
“On balance the S&D Group are pleased with the outcome of the LULUCF trilogue. We delivered on our red lines meaning that the accounting period is clearly set in the past and wetlands are recognised as being of key importance. We also managed to incentivise the use of long lasting wood products such as engineered timber in construction. All in all a good day for the environment”.