On 14 July 2021, the European Commission adopted the so-called Fit for 55 package, a set of proposals under the European Green Deal to make the EU’s climate, energy, land use, transport and taxation policies fit for reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. Achieving these reductions in the next decade would make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050.

What actions for forests?

In this framework the EU Forest Strategy set concrete actions to improve the quantity and quality of forests and strengthen their protection, restoration and resilience to weather extremes and high uncertainty brought about by climate change. These actions include protecting remaining EU primary forests; establishing legally binding nature restoration targets for forests; creating payment schemes for forest owners and managers for the provision of ecosystem services; and planting 3 billion additional trees by 2030.

The EU Forest Strategy will also encourage better understanding of what is happening in our forests by improving the monitoring of the state of forests and ensuring that EU countries develop appropriate strategic plans.

Why plant 3 billion additional trees?

In the European Union, forests account for about 38% of the total land surface. However, extreme weather events and the increasing demand for forest services and products, driven by wood-based bioenergy and international trade, has accelerated tree-cover loss in the last decade.

The annual expansion of forests is on the decrease, so planting 3 billion additional trees is essential to help reverse this trend.

These 3 billion trees across the European Union will increase the resilience of forests and their role in reversing biodiversity loss and mitigating CO2 emissions and help us adapt to climate change.
According to the principle of additionality, the pledge is to plant 3 billion trees between 2020 and 2030 in addition to those that would be planted or grow anyway under a business-as-usual scenario.

The additional trees need to be planted and grown in full respect of ecological principles. This means that the right tree has to be planted in the right place and for the right purpose and requires long term monitoring. In practice, this means planting the right mix of tree species not only in forests, but also in agroforestry, agricultural and urban areas.

Finding the right balance with forests

The new strategy recognises the importance of forests in the fight against climate change. However, as some green groups point out, it will be crucial not to overexploit forests as sources of wood-based bioenergy, but to find the right balance between sustainable use and conservation of forest resources for all the benefits they offer us.

Climate change is the defining crisis of our time and it is important to build a new model in which nature is an ally in creating a fairer, greener and more prosperous future. This is why forests are a key part of the fight against biodiversity loss and the climate crisis.

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