Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for inviting me here today.
Forests are a central part of our European natural heritage. They play a major role in the protection of our precious biodiversity and in the provision of ecosystem services.
Wooded areas represent one of our most important land uses, covering about 42% of the total area in the EU and providing over 3 million jobs.
And, perhaps just as importantly, it is now crystal clear to EU policymakers and indeed European citizens everywhere, that forests and the forestry sector hold many answers to our shared societal and environmental challenges.
The European Commission has consistently championed the message that forestry is a key sector in the transition towards a low carbon and climate friendly economy. It is one of the main sectors that keeps our rural areas vibrant and sustainable.
This message has been strengthened by recent international developments, in particular the Paris climate agreement and the SDGs.
It is also clear that the increasing demand for forest biomass will continue, in line with the promising development and growth of the bioeconomy: apart from traditional wood products, engineered wood, biobased chemical products and new and more efficient types of bio-fuels will provide new market opportunities.
At the same time, we must be mindful of the fact that forest ecosystems are exposed to a number of threats aggravated by climate change. To balance the opportunities with the challenges, there is a pressing need to ensure the long-term sustainable management and development of forests.
EU Forest Strategy
The EU Forest Strategy aims to do just that.
The Strategy aims to strengthen coherence and coordination in the forest sector, with an emphasis on increased involvement of the key stakeholders.
It also supports the development of the EU bioeconomy, which we expect will greatly contribute to the decarbonisation of our society and provide a more resilient energy union.
The concept of Sustainable Forest Management is based on three pillars: economic, social and environmental. These pillars are often treated as separate items. However, for a policy to be truly sustainable, all three components must work in synergy.
An economically profitable activity will eventually fail if the resources it is based on are degraded. And many environmental protection strategies will not be successful in the long run, unless they promote the profitable and sustainable use of resources.
The Forest Strategy’s principles allow for full alignment with the sustainability agenda, by supporting rural areas; by supporting a competitive forestry sector; and by supporting the development of a circular low carbon bioeconomy, all while addressing our headline policy objectives on climate change, biodiversity and ecosystem services.
The ongoing review of the EU Forest Strategy will allow us to reflect on additional actions to ensure full alignment with the SDGs.
I would like to say a few additional words on the bioeconomy. I have been all over Europe in my role as Commissioner, and I have seen with my own eyes the potential this sector holds for farmers and foresters.
This afternoon I will visit the First2Run project, an integrated biorefinery for dry crops, to see a local example of a successful bioeconomy development.
Last week, the Commission hosted a workshop where Member States presented projects they are implementing under the bioeconomy, including in the forestry sector.
According to industry estimates, bio-based industries are projected to generate one million new jobs by 2030, many of them in rural areas where they are urgently needed.
A sustainable bioeconomy is also key to the reduction of emissions in the European Energy sector. Currently the EU’s largest renewable energy source, bioenergy is expected to remain a key component of the energy mix in 2030.
The bioeconomy will make major contributions to meet the EU renewable energy targets of 27% in 2020 and 32% in 2030.
But clearly “The better is the enemy of the good”: we need to continue our joint efforts in developing innovative, more efficient bio-based forms of energy.
Just like in agriculture, the challenge is to produce more with less. This will be good for economic and environmental reasons.
The role of wood and other forest materials is critically important.
They will be used as a primary source of high-added value products in the mission to gradually replace fossil fuel-dependent materials. For instance, we will see continued demand for materials in a booming construction sector: if we can replace conventional construction materials at a higher rate with traditional wood but also with engineered wood, this would be a win-win situation: good for the climate and good for business in the forestry sector.
The European Commission is not just supporting this agenda with lofty words – we are putting our money where our mouth is. We know that the demand for feed, food and fibre will continue to grow.
This will continue to put pressure on our land resources, be it forested land or agricultural land. This increases the need to look for more innovative and sustainable uses of our natural resources.
That is why, for the next EU budget, spanning the years 2021-2027, the Commission is proposing €100 billion for Horizon Europe - the most ambitious research and innovation programme ever.
Of this, €10 billion is dedicated to the primary sectors including the bioeconomy: a real breakthrough.
This will lead to many new funding opportunities for bioeconomy projects.
To take full advantage of these exciting possibilities, the Commission is currently finalising its update of the 2012 EU BIOECONOMY Strategy.
This process is about to materialise in a revised Strategy and an action plan more adapted to the evolving environment of the bioeconomy and reflecting better the needs of all stakeholders, including a specific focus on forest resources and sustainable forest management.
We had a very useful debate on how to support the deployment of the bioeconomy at the AGRIFISH Council in February this year. The outcome of that debate clearly showed the political commitment of all MS to do more in this area.
Based on all this work and reflections we have had at policy level, we can conclude with no doubt that the BIOECONOMY has the potential to improve the living conditions of primary producers – our farmers and foresters - by creating additional outlets for higher value-added products as well as spurring innovation in the primary sector.
However, we have also agreed that in order to achieve this potential, primary producers need to play a more active role in the value creation of the bioeconomy supply chains than just supplying raw material.
I am pleased to tell you that we are on track to launch the revised EU bioeconomy strategy in October, and I encourage you all to study its contents closely.
At national level, meanwhile, despite the fact that the number of national bioeconomy strategies has been increasing, many Member States still remain without one.
I urge you to use your influence to ensure that all MS develop a clear bioeconomy strategy which is coherent with the EU's objectives. This will ensure a win-win for all parties concerned.
CAP Support for Forestry
Let me next turn to my own portfolio of agriculture and rural development with which the EU supports sustainable forest management.
Through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, around €8.2 billion is dedicated to forestry measures in the 2014-2020 programming period.
The CAP’s forestry measures are the main source of funding to the EU forests and the forest sector, ensuring their alignment with the principles of the EU Forest Strategy and the objective to promote sustainable forest management.
We are now looking to the future.
The Commission’s proposal for the new CAP, running from 2021 to 2027, aims to make a much stronger contribution to the sustainable development agenda. Therefore we are showing higher ambition and focusing more on results in relation to resource efficiency, environmental care and climate action. Forests and forestry are expected to play a strong role in achieving these aims.
The social and economic role of EU forests and the bio-economy have now been included explicitly in the objectives for the new CAP: specifically: to ‘promote employment, growth, social inclusion and local development in rural areas, including bio-economy and sustainable forestry’.
Under our proposal, Member States will have more freedom to tailor CAP interventions to the local needs of forests, the forest sector and the rural areas where they are located.
This will ensure a locally balanced approach towards sustainable development.
My objective is to find new synergies to meet urgent policy demands through the CAP. This means that farmers and foresters will be more and more part of the policy implementation in meeting our societal goals.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, we can clearly see that at the present time, forests are part of the answer to many of our most important policy questions.
I am grateful to the European Forest Institute for your contribution to this work, and I urge you to closely examine the EU's policy proposals for the coming decade to see where you can add value and find new opportunities. Thank you.