Protecting forests is essential to safeguard biodiversity and mitigate climate change, writes Protect the Forest in its feedback on EU's 2030 Climate Target Plan.

Protect the Forest has given feedback on EU's 2030 Climate Target Plan.

Read the full feedback from Protect the Forest here:

There is a climate and biodiversity crisis in the world, and a catastrophic future lies ahead. Both crises are intertwined. Protecting and restoring forests is essential. Natural forests store large amounts of carbon. If they are cut down, carbon is released to the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide emissions from bioenergy are considered as zero emissions. However, bioenergy is not carbon-neutral. The burning of bioenergy emits carbon dioxide immediately which contributes to the greenhouse effect just like fossil fuels. The atmosphere does not differentiate between different sources of carbon. It takes many years to compensate for these carbon emissions: in a 50-100 year perspective, biofuels can even have larger climate impact than fossil fuels.

In order to mitigate climate change, everything possible should be done to prevent carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. The use of both bioenergy and fossil fuels need to be reduced. The purported climate benefits of biofuels need to be re-evaluated urgently.

By decreasing harvest rates and protecting older natural forests, carbon will continue to be absorbed and stored in the soil. Emissions from forest harvesting are not fully accounted for in greenhouse gas emission inventory reports. Instead, harvested wood products, which include paper products and wood used for energy, are considered as carbon dioxide removals. The concept of replacing natural forests with plantations and harvested wood products to create sinks and mitigate climate change is false, as it fails to account for the carbon lost from the destroyed natural forest and when wood is used for energy.

The urgency needs to be acknowledged. According to IPCC, the net emissions of greenhouse gases need to decrease with about 50 % globally by 2030 in order to avoid a global mean temperature increase of 1,5 C above pre-industrial levels. It generally takes 50-100 years for felled trees in the boreal region to grow back and re-absorb the emitted carbon dioxide. In e.g. Sweden, about 80 % of the annual harvest is used for bioenergy, paper and other short-lived products, which increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for decades. If the increase of carbon to the atmosphere continues and the temperature increases with more than 2-3 degrees C as compared to-pre industrial levels, there is a major risk that climate tipping points will be reached where changes can become uncontrolled and practically irreversible.

Climate policy measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions:

• Protect at least 30 % of the forest land in the EU. The forests should be ecologically representative and well connected.
• Prioritize and incentivize protection of all remaining primary and natural forests including peat-land forests. All forest biotopes under the EU Habitats Directive must have a favorable conservation status in the EU.
• Re-direct EU subsidies for cutting and burning wood to protecting and restoring natural forests.
• Restore wetlands on drained peat-lands, since they emit a lot of greenhouse gases.
• Implement full accounting of the full climate impact of biofuels.
• Harvested wood products (HWPs) should not be considered as carbon sinks - it risks leading to increased harvesting rates without accounting for the emissions caused by the forest felling.
• Support and promote the use of nature-oriented and continuous cover forestry to decrease the release of greenhouse gases from soil. However, high conservation value forests should be exempted from forestry, not felled.
• Promote natural regeneration and favor mixed forests with a greater proportion of deciduous trees.
• Produce less short-lived forest products since these require a lot of energy to produce and release carbon to the atmosphere rapidly. Prioritize long-lived products instead.
• Reduce the energy consumption and reduce the consumption of paper, forest products and other natural resources. Promote energy efficiency and recycling.

See references in the attachment here.

The full feedback on EU's 2030 Climate Target Plan can also be read here.