Forests Simply Provide Better Health

72% of Europeans live in a city or urban area. Bettering the quality of life, forests have huge value in the urban environment. Everyone has a favourite park, a favourite bike track, picnic spot or walking trail. Our ease in associating trees with happiness is an illustration of the important relationship between cities and forests: they are good for our mental health and they have huge physical benefits too; they fight climate change and guard nature; they help keep water resources and air clean – that is the value of the forests on our doorstep. The forests to which we can cycle, walk or bus.

Beyond that, tropical forests and rainforests play a major role in regulating our global climate. Our direct experience of these forests is as small as their direct impact on our lives is large. They are vital. The European Commission is fully aware of the value of forests, big and small, near and far.

Since 2003, the EU has been implementing the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Action Plan (FLEGT AP) to fight illegal logging and associated trade – both important drivers of deforestation. The FLEGT AP consists of a combination of demand and supply-side measures in 7 inter-related action areas. On the supply side, the FLEGT AP places forest governance reforms and capacity-building among its key components, while on the demand side the EU Timber Regulation lays down the obligations of operators who place timber and timber products on the market, contributing to addressing the problem of deforestation and forest degradation. In addition, dialogue and cooperation with other major markets are promoted.

The EU should promote actions to minimize the impact of its consumption on deforestation.

We are also in the process of developing a communication to step-up EU actions against deforestation and forest degradation. The initiative will increase the coherence of existing EU policies and tools, taking full advantage of how policy areas overlap. The consequences of deforestation will be seen through the lens of many EU policies. The communication will also help better implement and reinforce actions already undertaken by the EU and its Member States, support existing commitments by governments and the private sector, promote collaboration and the exchange of good practices, and raise awareness.

Given the important role of forests in contributing to all relevant SDGs and other international commitments, we see the communication as an EU contribution to achieve internationally-agreed objectives. The Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the 2017 UN Strategic Plan for Forests to name but three. That is, of course, not to forget that we are building towards the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) which will be hosted by China in 2020.

European citizens put a high value on forests, especially for the wildlife they contain, and for their role in preventing natural disasters and climate change. Forests certainly need protection, which is why there is an explicit reference to them in SDG 15. Moreover, it is why the European Commission has a 3-point approach:

  • The EU Forest Strategy is built around the notion of multi-functionality, with a view to steering Europe towards the sustainable management of its forests.
  • The strategy on bio-economy is to develop bio-based sectors, especially at the local level, while ensuring we remain within ecological boundaries.
  • On deforestation, FLEGT has delivered some powerful changes, especially through the Timber Regulation and the upcoming communication.

Deforestation is a complex issue, caused by multiple drivers. The European Commission highlights that, in order to be effective, work on deforestation needs to take into account the causes. We need to take an honest look at land use planning.

There is a need to adopt a balanced approach regarding commodities, which can be associated with deforestation. The EU should promote actions to minimize the impact of its consumption on deforestation. To do this means recognizing the environmental and social challenges. Of course, we must in parallel acknowledge the important role in economic development of producer countries.

Our initiative will emphasize the EU intention to engage constructively with and support producer countries efforts. We will also dialogue with other consumer countries, as well as businesses and civil society. Central to our initiative is the rights of indigenous peoples; we must respect their human rights, and we must promote the exchange of good practices to raise awareness across all stakeholders.

As this Commission mandate ends in 2019, I hope that our successes in greening our cities is apparent. Our commitment to the birds and habitats directives has only grown. And our recognition of the value of biodiversity is ever present.