European Commissioner for Environment
Unlocking the potential of Europe's forests – The path towards green growth
ThinkForest high-level seminar towards a green bio-economy
Brussels, 15 May 2012
Chairman, honourable MEPs,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The topic of this conference touches upon the core of the challenges we face in a resource stressed future.
The enormity of climate change is contributing to hard debate and choices in the search for solutions. The very longevity of forests adds an extra dimension this. What we do in our daily lives today will affect forests for generations to come. We must prepare if we want to leave healthy functioning forests to future generations.
We cannot take the relatively stable status of forest cover in Europe for granted and we cannot either take for granted that forests will remain a sink for carbon sequestration. Sustainability will be challenged and it will be especially in forests. We need to improve our knowledge to face this reality.
New demands for bio-energy and new types of wood-based products, for example, are likely to put an increased demand on our forests. Part of these demands could be met through an increased use of currently under-managed forests and a more efficient use of wood already harvested. However, there is a risk that excessive new demand could lead to an excessive use of certain forests.
There is a risk that we use our resources beyond the planet's capacity. The key word has to be efficient use of our resources. Sustainability.
Forests should be used at a rate and in a way that will not compromise their biodiversity and other environmental functions, and in a way that does not reduce the future productive capacity of the forest in terms of quality and quantity of wood and other products.
While European forestry has strong credentials in having increased forest area, standing stock and increment over the past decades, we should not be complacent.
Climate change is already making its signature on forests, and projected future changes in climate, present an existential threat to our forests on the medium-to-long term.
Climate change alone questions whether our forests are truly "sustainable". Changes are unpredictable, but likely to be significant. To be resilient, forests should be diverse and in good health. Unfortunately, many EU forests are not in a favourable condition, and are subject to pressures, such as fragmentation and the spread of invasive alien species, including new pathogens.
We should make full use of forests as a source of renewable energy and materials but within allowable limits.
The 2011 Commission green paper on forest protection and information in the EU describes the challenges we face and the present situation. But delivering the high level of protection of forests will require a great deal of effort from, not only the Commission, but all of us: Member States, European Parliament, EU foresters and all stakeholders involved.
The Commission has been working with Member States, and in particular their national forest inventories, with a view to improve coherence and cost-effectiveness of forest information related, to climate, soil, biodiversity and water issues, among other things. And this in view of future work, including the review of the EU forest strategy later this year.
An important step in the right direction is the Commission Communication on land use, land use change and forestry adopted in March. With this proposal the EU builds on the results of the international negotiations in Durban, but goes further in enhancing environmental integrity and the completeness of accounting.
The proposal extends the scope agreed in Durban - without compromising however the principles and rules laid down internationally. In addition to accounting for the activities of afforestation, reforestation and deforestation and forest management the proposal would also make it mandatory for Member States to account for cropland management and grazing land management.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Forests are not immune to the current debates surrounding direct and indirect land use change, biomass for energy in this context and forestry within the climate and energy arena. We need to steer a careful path in ensuring that meeting our 2020 biomass and biofuels goals does not contradict our climate goals and does not come at the expense of world food and feed supply, biodiversity conservation and water protection.
This is not an easy task and whatever progress we make has to be carefully measured against overall aims.
Resource efficiency, climate change and energy provision will dominate the environmental agenda in forestry in the future. Finding the right linkages and solutions, based on sound science and up to date information, will be crucial.
In about six weeks, Rio de Janeiro will host a major conference on sustainable development organised by the United Nations, twenty years after the first Rio Summit. The title of the Rio Summit is Green Economy in the Context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication.
In Rio, the European Union will propose that the world agrees to establish global objectives and targets to drive the overall process and transformation towards a green economy.
We are calling for focused and clear operational targets on five specific areas. Areas, that I call the five 'pillars of life' : Water, sustainable energy, oceans, land and ecosystems, and resource efficiency. These areas represent what we believe are the resources on which our future wellbeing depend, whether we live in the northern or southern hemisphere, whether we live on cities or on farms.
One of them is sustainable land management, for which we are proposing to arrive at zero net rate of land and soil degradation within an internationally agreed timeframe. The time has come to act at global level. The pace at which we are degrading soil and changing land uses worldwide is quite worrying. And this touches also upon our Forests.
Moving towards a green economy worldwide is the only answer to the many challenges we face. Europeans can already see the first fruits of our determination to pursue the low-carbon path, and now we have the opportunity to build on early success and experience.
We have placed "moving to a resource efficient low carbon economy" at the core of our economic strategy, and as a way out of the current financial crisis, towards sustainable growth. When we look back to Durban, we can see that the example of global action on climate change that many of our partners share, is not only about the sense of environmental urgency to act, but it is also about the economic opportunities it offers.
Rio can offer the perfect opportunity to broaden and accelerate a worldwide transition in the same direction. We are increasingly recognizing the link between the use and sustainability of the natural resources we rely on, such as soil, energy and raw materials, and under how much pressure they are. A green economy that places resource efficiency at the heart of its policy can offer great growth opportunities.
As we exit the crisis we must look not just at growth, but at the quality of that growth. We need to set in place the trajectory of the future, and it must be for resource efficient and low carbon growth. It must be a green growth, an inclusive green growth.
I am confident we can do this and hope our efforts can help in this endeavour.
Thank you for your attention.