Forestry and agriculture are responsible for around a quarter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally and account for up to 80% of some countries' mitigation potential. The IPCC's findings are unequivocal: there are no lasting solutions to climate change without healthy and resilient forests.
Forests are important to climate change mitigation because of the significance of their carbon stock and because their exchange of greenhouse gases between the atmosphere and soils and vegetation can go both ways. Many human activities such as logging, grazing of livestock or ploughing, influence the exchange of greenhouse gases with the atmosphere and ultimately the carbon footprint of the sector. National and international frameworks regulate the sector in terms of climate change.
The EU is working towards a reliable, stable and fully compliant system for monitoring the carbon balance in land use. The legislative framework, adopted in 2013, will allow the EU to define its mitigation contribution from land in the post-2020 context.
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.
The land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) accounting rules will help to identify opportunities to strengthen the capacity of forests and agricultural soils to preserve and capture CO2 in a sustainable way. The efforts of forest owners and farmers and their good practices aimed at securing carbon stored in forests and soils will be better recognised. The accounting rules will also contribute to protecting biodiversity and water resources and more climate-friendly agriculture. Financial incentives for climate-friendly agricultural practises are provided through the EU's rural development policy.
Member States are required to report on their actions to increase removal and decrease emissions of greenhouse gases 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 Member State level. This will enhance the overall environmental integrity of GHG accounting in the EU by making it more complete.
The EU REDD Facility is one of several European initiatives to address the underlying drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, and to foster sustainable forest management in developing countries. The European Forest Institute (EFI) established the EU REDD Facility at the end of 2010 with funding from the European Commission and its Member States.
The EU budget, the European Commission's Joint Research Centre and EU Member States support the European Forest Institute in delivering country-led technical support and seed finance to address the bottlenecks in implementing REDD+ and/or voluntary bilateral partnerships on Forest Law, Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT), as a way to tackle illegal logging, one of the key drivers in forest degradation. The EU budget also supports a number of initiatives in developing countries through the EU REDD and FLEGT facilities.
"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now." – Chinese Proverb
Across the globe lie more than a billion hectares of lost and degraded forest land that could be restored. It’s a vast area with the potential to enrich communities, their environment and their economies. Both local and large-scale afforestation/reforestation projects have already made a dramatic difference to landscapes and livelihoods. Such practices (be it at stand or landscape levels) could as well significantly modify carbon dynamics and forest biodiversity. Variable environmental conditions, such as temperature, light availability and drought intensity maintain and promote genetic diversity within and between (semi-)natural forests, even at short spatial scales, which in turn allows for more rapid adaptation to climate change, and more lasting storage of carbon in soils and trees. Though potential trade-offs with agriculture must be considered, restoring at least 350 million hectares by 2030, would generate €130 billion/year in net benefits from watershed protection, improved crop yields, and forest products. This would also sequester about 1–3 Gt CO2e/year, depending on the areas restored.
The EU has contributed some €40 million to initiatives such as UNREDD (Food and Agriculture Organisation, United Nations Environmental Programme, United Nations Development Programme), Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (World Bank) and EU REDD Facility (European Forest Institute). These have helped more than fifty developing countries to develop their national REDD+ strategies and are about to test large scale performance-based payments, i.e. paying 10 beneficiaries (countries or provinces) proportionally, according to the amount of forest emissions they have reduced.