On the 22nd of September, the European Forest Institute held an informative Zoom webinar on the Future of Forest Policy Post-2020. Much of the discussion revolved around the impacts of the new European Green Deal and the new attitude that must be adopted towards forest management in a more circular economy following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several key points were introduced including:
- The formulation of a European Forest Policy, which would unite and standardise forest management goals across the EU.
- The creation of an EU Forest Strategy, working to improve the resilience of forests, enhance biodiversity and promote movement towards a bioeconomy.
- The need to heal the divide between urban and rural attitudes towards forest management.
- Provide a stronger political role and funding for forests in the EU.
The EFI report, presented by Bernhard Wolfslehner, split the focus on future European Forest Policy into three areas: what could be learnt from other sector policy approaches? What can be done to improve integration and discussion across policy sectors? How can cooperation between public and private interests when formulating new policy be improved?
Whilst presenting the report, Mr Wolfslehner conceded several obstacles to achieving a successful future EU forest policy and emphasised the current flaws which exist in the approach taken by the EU towards forestry. The criticisms included: the current lack of expertise needed to create a shared framework, the absence of a coherent and explicit policy towards forestry, and the contradicting visions of the forest resource between member states.
The EFI report and webinar discussion also centred around the use of the European Green Deal in generating and revitalising attempts to create a united forest policy. The Green Deal is a set of policy initiatives which aim to make Europe carbon neutral by 2050. Prior to COVID-19, attempts by the EFI had seemingly stalled in creating a forest policy, with member states’ interests diverging. Therefore, the Green Deal’s new climate commitments may be the necessary catalyst for future agreement.
Eeva Primmer, the research director for SYKE, laid emphasis on the multi-functionality of forests and the danger of focussing on single objectives and considerations when creating forest policy. She gave the example of creating more vulnerable, less resilient, uniformed forest stands by an over-focussing on the volume of carbon the woodland could sequester, to demonstrate this point.
This is a vital observation to make and must be at the centre of creating a future common forest policy for the EU. Too often are forest initiatives oversimplified to single-issue solutions for complex and delicate problems in an ecosystem which plays such an integral part in the future of European biodiversity.
The message of healing the divide between rural and urban views towards forest management was continually hit home by several high profile politicians, such as the former prime minister of Sweden, Göran Persson.
The dislocation of urban and rural interests towards forests is a very serious problem, with poor understanding of forestry techniques fueling growing distrust and a lack of funding towards the industry. To learn more about the issues and developments surrounding forest management follow this link.
The webinar concluded with a Q&A session in which several interesting comments were put forward to the panel:
Q: What measures should be taken to coordinate multi-policy actors when formulating a European Forest Policy?
In response, the panel emphasised the importance of making forest issues and the preservation of the forest ecosystem an unavoidable discussion for EU policymakers. The panel stated that a new forest policy should be implemented with great urgency and make full use should be made of the changing environmental commitments and political landscape generated by the Green Deal.
Q: How can the rise of populist politics affect the implementation of a European Forest Policy?
The panel described the divisiveness of politics surrounding forests, with the differing and strong feelings taken by urban and rural actors leading to polarisation surrounding attempts to implement a common forest policy. However, the panel discussed how the solution to ending this polarisation lies in emphasising the sustainability of wood and creating new entry points for open discussion.
Q: If political leadership is required to lead attempts to create a European Forest Policy who should take on the responsibility?
To this question, Mr Wolfslehner stated that a commission of willing member state representatives should be formed to lead the discussion, and that the most important feature of creating such a political figurehead would be its ability to demonstrate progress.
Conclusion of Points
Overall, the EFI painted a positive image of future European forestry. Encouraging sentiments of creating a circular economy, healing societal opinion towards forestry, investing in workers in the field and balancing public and private interest, tell of a renewed effort to unite forest management in Europe in the wake of The Green Deal.
However, implementing a European Forest Policy is still ambitious and difficult to obtain, with the interests and goals of member states diverging. To succeed, European countries must commit to developing a sustainable circular economy, in which the managing of forests are accepted as integral to the future of the EU and in the combatting of global climate change.