What role for forests in the EU climate plans?

The draft National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) of Denmark, Germany, Romania, Slovakia and Sweden lack details on sustainability and contain worrying information on increasing reliance on biomass and reducing sinks.

In December 2019, EU Member States were busy finalising their National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) which layout how they intend to meet national and international climate targets of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees.

Forests play a crucial role in the climate as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their trunks and in the soil (the forest sink). Given that we are in the midst of a climate emergency, the EU should, therefore, be protecting and restoring forests. However, if current EU forest management (such as clearcutting and burning for bioenergy) remains the same, the EU forest sink will be halved by 2050. If, on the other hand, we restore the biodiversity and health of our forests they could be absorbing triple the amount by 2050. 

So, what are the Member States doing to move us in the right direction?

Fern analysed the draft NECPs of Denmark, Germany, Romania, Slovakia and Sweden, particularly focussing on Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) and bioenergy. We also considered whether the Member States had provided enough information on important questions such as the sources and uses of wood, projected bioenergy use, biodiversity, and the future forest carbon sink.

The draft plans revealed both worrying information and a lack of material. To select just a few examples, Denmark plans to have 67% of its renewable energy come from forest biomass by 2030; Germany emphasises sustainability but provides no information on the source of biomass; by 2030, Romania’s use of biomass for heat and electricity will increase by 121%; Slovakia’s forest carbon sink will be reduced by 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030, alongside an increase in reliance on bioenergy; and Sweden only formally protects 4.7% of its forests while foreseeing sharp increases in harvesting.

What about the final plans?

Final plans were due to be submitted to the Commission at the end of December. However, many Member States missed the deadline. Of the five NECPs analysed by Fern, Germany and Romania have not yet submitted their final versions. Those which have been submitted are not yet available online (although the Commission had promised that they would be made available before the end of January so we expect them any day now).

The Commission will provide its analysis of the final plans by ‘the middle of the year’.