What’s on the policy horizon for forest ecosystem services?

After a tumultuous year of restriction and restraint, can renewed policies in the European Union’s policy framework for forests offer some hope? The new EU Green Deal and the Biodiversity Strategy to 2030 will be complemented in 2021 by the eagerly anticipated EU Forest Strategy. A fitting moment, then, to bring policy makers and practitioners together to discuss what this might mean for Europe’s forests and for forest ecosystem services in particular.

In the second in the SINCERE Talks series, a diverse expert panel discussed implications for the provision of forest ecosystem services (FES) in the light of these new policies. In the online debate, organised jointly by the SINCERE project and European Integrate Network, policy makers, practitioners, researchers and conservationists came together to consider how the future policy framework might increase the resilience and sustainability of Europe’s forests and how new legislation might affect people working with forest ecosystem services in practice.

The debate included speakers from the European Commission’s DGs for Environment and Agriculture as well as key stakeholders CEPF, EUSTAFOR, FERN and the Integrate Network. Over 100 participants attended the two-hour webinar which took place on 7 December.

In the opening presentations, Andrea Vettori, DG Environment, highlighted nature protection as an essential part of the EU’s new Green Deal. The provision of forest ecosystem services features in the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, with a particular focus on restoration and sustainable forest management as well as tree planting, especially in cities, while stakeholder participation is encouraged via the EU’s Global Agenda.

Alfonso Gutiérrez Teira, DG Agriculture and Rural Development, described a new green architecture for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) where forests will have a role in the new Eco-Schemes. Next year’s EU Forest Strategy is also expected to provide support for FES, focussing on low environmental impact, improved supply and demand of FES, and fostering financial incentives, such as payments for ecosystem services (PES).

Following the policy presentations, diverse perspectives were shared by four expert panellists who raised concerns on fragmentation, funding and increased biomass demand, as well as protection and intervention issues.

Fanny-Pomme Langue from the Confederation of European Forest Owners (CEPF) questioned a perceived trend towards a segregated approach, underlining the importance of integration for forest owners, as well as voluntary and bottom-up approaches. She also called for a thorough cost evaluation of FES provision.

Piotr Borkowski of the European State Forest Association (EUSTAFOR) considered it crucial to include forestry in the open market for effective delivery of FES. He shared concerns about fragmentation and called for a solid financial basis for policy planning, where forestry is not reliant on subsidies.

Julia Christian of the environmental NGO Fern urged that European forests are in crisis due to projected decline of forest carbon storage and substantial biodiversity loss, which is occurring even in protected areas. She reflected on increased harvesting, potentially due to growth in demand for biomass, and questioned the contribution of EU climate targets here.

Finally, Tomáš Krejzar, representing the European Integrate Network, also expressed concern over a segregated approach as threatening integrated forest management. He called for an enabling environment for the provisions and payments of ecosystem services while acknowledging that the new EU framework should provide more opportunities than threats to integrated forest management.

The opening presentations from all six panellists led to a many-faceted debate, moderated by Georg WinkelEuropean Forest Institute, with probing questions posed by the highly engaged audience. These include members of SINCERE’s Innovation Action Case Studies who are tackling several of these issues in practice. The discussion covered a variety of topics, from multifunctional forests and key tools thttps://.efi.into support them, trade-offs on imported wood, old-growth forests and restoration, deforestation and human rights issues, PES, taxation and the need to demonstrate the effectiveness of sustainable forest management practices in increase their reach.

Tantalisingly, several questions were left unanswered, paving the way for a continuation of the discussion next year. Though the roadmap feedback period on the new EU forest strategy is closed, Commission representatives welcomed this opportunity to discuss policy issues with key stakeholders and encouraged continued contributions via the public consultation which will open soon.

To draw the debate to a close, panellists shared “Christmas wishes” for the upcoming EU Forest Strategy. These included a proper evaluation of what is required to protect FES, more flexibility for member states and forest managers, a review of the renewable energy directive, restoration targets for Europe’s forests, a vision for a just transition for forestry in Europe and stakeholder involvement in the strategy development.

EC representatives could be seen taking notes, so perhaps Santa will indeed be kind to forests next year. Meanwhile, all present agreed that stakeholder engagement and working together are essential ingredients for 2021 and beyond, and so we look forward with hope to the new year and to the next opportunity for collaboration.

More details on the webinar can be found on EFI’s Resilience blog.

Watch the recording of the webinar & download the presentations!

Forests and forest ecosystems in the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030

Andrea Vettori,  European Commission – DG Environment

Towards an EU policy framework for forest ecosystem services: EUSTAFOR

Piotr Borkowski, European State Forests Association, EUSTAFOR

The EU policy framework: Common Agricultural Policy; EU Forest Strategy

Alfonso Gutiérrez Teira, European Commission – DG Agriculture and Rural Development

Towards an EU policy framework for forest ecosystem services: CEPF

Fanny-Pomme Langue, Confederation of European Forest Owners (CEPF)

Perspective from the European Integrate Network

Tomas Krejzar, Czech Ministry of Agriculture and European Integrate Network

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