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Reflections and current stakes

Annemarie Bastrup-Birk (European Environment Agency – EEA) takes the floor

Reflections and current stakes in forest monitoring at the European scale

Summary

In Europe, forest cover is considerable (more than 40% of the total surface area). Forests are precious ecosystems which provide a multiplicity of ecosystem services linked to ecology, economy and society as a whole (for example, protecting soils from erosion, preserving biodiversity, producing wood and other products such as berries, mushrooms and cork). Forests also provide jobs, particularly in rural areas, and have an important place in European culture.

Forests face many threats including intensive human land use (urbanization and infrastructure), natural disturbances (diseases, droughts) and human-induced disturbances (atmospheric pollution, fires). Climatic changes are the forthcoming challenge for our European forests and will affect their distribution ranges and growth. These changes threaten the future existence of our forests and jeopardize the services they provide society. We must protect our forests to improve, maintain and restore their ecosystem functions.

The European Union has no common forest policy. However, certain European policies and initiatives in favour of the forest and the forest sector have extended their impact in the last decade. Forest ecosystems attracted attention during the application of the Habitats Directive and other protective laws such as the EU Biodiversity Strategy. Forest management, conservation and use are crucial concerns when negotiating common policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and strategies to adapt to climate change, to develop a bio-economy and set out common energy policies. Unfortunately, the use of various different political means often leads to fragmentary decisions catering to sectorial interests when new objectives are set outside of the forest sector. A good example is the conflict which has arisen as a result of a compromise between biodiversity conservation and biomass extraction for energy production. There is a growing risk that forest ecosystems will not be sufficiently taken into account in the EU's political agenda. Coherently reconciling the different stakes involved is a real challenge for the numerous European projects impacting the forests in the E.U.

The E.U. Forest Strategy (2013) hopes to complement the initiatives taken by the member states with European-wide initiatives. The Strategy promotes a holistic vision, supported by research and development, of a multi-functional forest simultaneously contributing to rural development, businesses, the environment, the production of bio-energies and to climate protection. Currently, member states contribute to several different international reports related to forests. The E.U. could take on the role of monitoring and reporting on the state and development of European forests, could anticipate trends and worldwide challenges and adopt the role of coordinator. The challenge is to integrate and standardize forest data, reduce the heterogeneity of current forest information systems and improve key statistical parameters (for example, surface areas, forest composition, carbon stocks). National Forest Inventories could become the fundamental basis for flexible responses to requests for data at the national, European and global levels. This in turn would significantly enhance the quality of the reporting at the European level (as for the LULUCF - Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry -at the UNFCCC - United Nations Climate Change Conference). In addition, forest stakeholders such as the private forest sector and environmental groups also have specific needs for information about European forests.

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