Paul's Column: one step closer to delivering the Paris Agreement

02 January 2018

Being a politician is one of those jobs where it can sometimes be tricky to know whether you’ve actually achieved anything!  Last week was different.

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 are needed. One such is in the area of Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry, known by its initials as LU-LU-C-F.

Across the EU, 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 forests, wetlands - including peat lands - also absorb 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.  This rather startling fact I only discovered last year, but since then I’ve repeated it to anyone willing to listen.

The first draft of the proposed LULUCF legislation, prepared by the European Commission, was made public in July 2016 but it didn’t include any mention of wetlands.  The draft was then passed to the European Parliament with our job being to amend and improve it.

The socialist group appointed me to be their rapporteur (lead) on this issue and I went into bat for the inclusion of wetlands and long-life wooden products, such as engineered construction timber, recognised as being as valuable as forests at storing carbon.

By the time the Parliament adopted its position on LULUCF in Strasbourg in September of this year both wetlands and long-life wood products were included - so far, so good.

To finalise a new piece of EU legislation a process known as a trilogue has to be concluded.  This involves a series of meetings held between the Commission, the Parliament’s negotiating team, of which in the case of LULUCF I was a member, and the Council, he Council being the 28 member states of the EU represented during the second half of 2017 by Estonia.

Last Thursday, December 14th, the final LULUCF trilogue was held in Strasbourg.  The Council moved first with a suggested compromise text.  The Parliament team withdrew to the room next door to discuss our response, returning some 30 minutes later with a counter offer.  Now it was the turn of the Council to withdraw while we waited.  At this point, much to everyone’s amusement, the head of the Commission’s negotiating team Commissioner Cañete from Spain, and a Father Christmas lookalike, crossed his arms and went to sleep!  To be fair he had been up all night leading his team negotiating a separate piece of legislation.

Four hours of back and forth followed until finally agreement was reached.  As with all such negotiations no party gets everything they had wished for, but we in the socialist group were pleased with what we managed to achieve.

First of all, the forest reference period was set as being from 2000 to 2009 meaning future forest management and use will be judged against this time frame.  There was a suggestion it should be 2000 to 2012, but these extra three years would have meant approximately 50 million tons of CO2 emissions never appearing as emissions because they would have been embedded in the baseline.

Secondly, wetlands, including peat lands, not in the Commission or Council proposals, will be included mandatorily in the accounting as of 2026.  This gives an incentive for the restoration of these important ecosystems, which is happening in our region.

Third, the proposal recognises the role of long-life harvested wood products and deadwood, both of which have the potential to store carbon for long enough to contribute to tackling climate change. This incentivising of the use of engineered construction wood such as Cross Laminated Timber, originated with me.

With the negotiating concluded we posed for a photograph.  As I shook hands with ‘Father Christmas’, otherwise known as Commissioner Cañete, he laughed and said, “Well done Mr Wetlands” and at that point I knew I had achieved something.

First published in The Journal newspaper on Wednesday 20th of December 2017.

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