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LULUCF in the EU

The term LULUCF stands for Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry and is used in relation to the forestry and agricultural sector in the international climate negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).


LULUCF covers greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into and removal of carbon from the atmosphere resulting from soils, trees, plants, biomass and timber. This means in principle all human activities that take place on agricultural land, forested land, wetland and peat land and which result directly in emissions or removals of greenhouse gases: draining of peat land, felling of forest or ploughing up grassland generates emissions; rewetting of organic soils, aforestation, conversion of arable land into grassland can result in protection of carbon stocks or even carbon sequestration.

FForests and agricultural lands currently cover more than three-quarters of the EU territory and naturally hold large stocks of carbon, preventing its escape into the atmosphere.

Yet so far the efforts of farmers and forest owners and their good practices for securing carbon stored in forests and soils have not been or have only partly been recognised in GHG accounting. The reason for this has been the difficulty of collecting robust carbon data from forests and soils and the lack of common rules on how to account for emissions and removals.

Working towards harmonised EU-wide emission accounting rules and common targets

In the light of a decision by UNFCCC parties in December 2011 to revise accounting rules for GHG emissions and removals from soils and forests, in March 2012 the European Commission made a proposal to harmonise accounting rules for these emissions and removals across the EU.

This initiative is a first step towards incorporating agriculture and forestry - the last major sectors without common EU-wide rules on GHG - into the EU's emission-reduction efforts.

Valley covered with forest © Stockbyte

Following agreement by the Council and the European Parliament, the decision entered into force on 8 July 2013.

The LULUCF accounting rules will help to strengthen the capacity of forests and agricultural soils to preserve and capture CO2 in a sustainable manner. They will better recognise the efforts of forest owners and farmers and their good practices aimed at securing carbon stored in forests and soils. They will also contribute to protecting biodiversity and water resources and more climate-friendly agriculture. Financial incentives for climate-friendly agricultural practises can be given through the EU's rural development policy.

The EU decision also requires Member States to report on their actions to increase removals  and decrease emissions of GHG from activities related to forestry and agriculture.

The legislation goes further than the UNFCCC decision by phasing in mandatory accounting for grassland management and cropland management at the level of Member States. This will enhance the overall environmental integrity of GHG accounting in the EU by making it more complete. Accounting for the draining and rewetting of wetlands will remain voluntary, as in the international context.

The EU decision does not set a target for emission reductions in the LULUCF sector. There are various reasons for this, an important one being that accounting must prove robust before setting targets. The Commission will consider whether to propose GHG targets for agriculture and forestry sectors once the accounting rules have proven their worth.

Preparation of the decision

In April 2009, the Council and European Parliament invited the European Commission to assess options for the inclusion of associated LULUCF emissions and removals in the EU GHG reduction commitment and, as appropriate, to make a proposal.

The Commission then engaged in a widespread consultation process to seek the views of Member States and other stakeholders. During 2010, an expert group on LULUCF was launched under the European Climate Change Programme and consultations were carried out with the public and with Member States.