More than 50 scientists have warned MEPs that a high-level move to water down EU legislation on deforestation could undermine Europe’s net zero emissions plans.
EU environment ministers rewrote a draft regulation last week to define “forest degradation” as the replacement of primary forest with plantations or other wooded land. In the EU, which has around 3.1 million hectares of primary forest in the middle 159 million hectares of the total forest, this would limit the scope of the law to only 2% of the total area.
While the proposal would also apply internationally, it could “prevent legislation to address the loss of forests on EU soil and give the impression that the EU is evading its own responsibilities by when it comes to forests – placing the burden instead on developing countries in the tropics,” the scientists said in a letter seen by the Guardian.
Any exclusion of forest degradation from the law would ‘undermine the EU’s stated desire to see Europe become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050’ and ‘severely weaken’ EU efforts to boost conservation world, adds the letter.
One of the signatories, Professor Jaboury Ghazoul of ETH Zurich, said the new definition of forest degradation would not be recognized by scientists or forest-dependent people.
“It ignores the massive damage that continues to be inflicted on forests by unsustainable logging, deliberate burning and mining, as well as road construction that fragment forests, facilitating their degradation,” said he declared.
Because it neglects the rights of forest-dependent communities, “the definition is not only untenable, it is also unfair,” he said.
Forest degradation is a estimated 25% of total emissions from damage to tropical forests and is expected to release about 2.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year – about 5% total global greenhouse gas emissions.
The European Commission original proposal defined forest degradation as the result of unsustainable operations that have reduced the biological complexity and long-term productivity of forest ecosystems, in accordance with the Definition of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
But a Swedish lobby newspaper consulted by the Guardian describes such definitions as “detailed and unclear” and says they would impose “excessive costs which cannot be justified” on small businesses.
The document also warns of “undesirable leakage effects” with logging companies moving to areas with more lax regulations.
Campaigners, however, fear that the looser definition could allow further deforestation for timber, paper and pulp, while loggers could simply damage the forests they want to fell so that they are not destroyed. more “primary” before starting operations.
Sini Eräjaa, head of Greenpeace’s European forest campaign, said: “Europe’s forests are being seriously degraded and the logging industry can no longer pretend that the destruction of nature is just an exotic problem. New EU legislation must protect all forests and their ability to support life, which means taking forest degradation seriously, at home and abroad.
An official of the current Czech EU Presidency noted that the EU ministers’ proposal “provides for a possible revision of the definition two years after it comes into force”.
The legislation will be finalized by MEPs, nation states and the European Commission in intra-EU negotiations.