Coinciding with the first day of the spring season, Thursday 21th March is the International Day of Forests 2019. Of particular importance for the EU, forests cover 40% of the EU’s land area, including half of the area designated as Natura 2000 sites. EU forests and forest-based industries employ around 4 million people, deliver goods with a total value of 500 billion euros and make up around 8% of the EU’s manufacturing GDP (CEPF).
However, the added value of forests is increasingly threatened by forest fires caused by climate change and human reasons. This subject was debated in the European Parliament on March 21st, 2019, during an event hosted by MEPs Nuno Melo and Andrzej Grzyb on “Climate Change and Forest Fires in Europe”.
Indeed, forest fires cost human lives and economic damages every year, nearly 34 people/year since 2000 and 3 billion euros/year, and also contribute to climate change. Not only do forest fires represent 0,2% of the EU’s annual greenhouse gas emissions but they also wipe out the benefits of forests such as CO2 removals from the atmosphere, carbon storage in wood products, substitution to fossil fuels, etc (DG RTD).
The necessity to implement sustainable forest management measures throughout the whole of Europe was the main message emerging from the event. Forests need to become more resilient to face both current climate change and land abandonment trends. It must be stressed that the issue will affect the whole of the EU, even Nordic countries, which was illustrated during summer 2018 with wild fires devastating Greenland for instance.
Representatives from DG AGRI, DG ENV, DG CLIMA, DG RTD and DG ECHO presented the policy response of the European Commission. Policy-makers acknowledged that the limits of fire suppression as a whole had been reached and that better land use should be sought instead. The European Commission aims to mainstream this principle across all the policies concerned i.e. the EU Forest Strategy, the Common Agricultural Policy, the Bioeconomy Strategy, LIFE & Natura 2000, etc. Current policy support measures ranging from investments in LIFE and Horizon 2020 projects on climate change mitigation and adaptation, Rural Development Programme measures for forestry, coordinated assistance across the EU to natural catastrophes, cross-border training programme on fire management, investments in early-warning systems for the population, etc. for mountain areas in particular an important point was made on pastoralism and the necessity to maintain grazing in mountain areas to reduce fire fuel (bushes, brambles, etc.) and manage the landscape in a sustainable way.
To know more, you can find the recent DG RTD study on “Forest Fires – Sparking Firesmart Policies in the EU” here, and attend the European Commission event “Our Forest, our Futures” on 25-26 April 2019 in Brussels, by registering here.
21 March 2019