Statement delivered by Commissioner Sinkevičius during the press conference on EU Forest Strategy

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Good morning everyone, and thank you for your interest in this file.

But before I move to the Forest Strategy, I would like to express my sympathies to all those who have been affected by the devastating flood in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany and Belgium.

Now, moving back to forests. The Forest Strategy is about our lungs, our planet’s lungs. Forests cover more that 43 percent of the Union’s surface and are a life-support system, a stabiliser of our climate and temperature, a purifier of the air that we breath and the water that we drink.

Forests are also home and shelter to huge amounts of species – they are the cradle of biodiversity. And they are great multitaskers, providing essential services like removing and storing a carbon or protecting villages from floods and landslides.

And they’re hugely important for the economy and the society. They are the foundation for key sectors of the economy and for the populations, which rely on them. For timber and wood-based products and materials of course, but also for other non-wood products and tourism.

So we need to keep them healthy and resilient, for the planet, for citizens and for business.

This is why we need a new strategy that is part of the Europe’s climate and biodiversity ambition. I cannot stress more the fact that healthy and resilient forests are key to reaching EU’s biodiversity and climate goals and securing sustainable growth and jobs.

But forests are under increased direct and indirect pressures. The new Forest Strategy addresses the key challenges caused by increasing human activity and climate change, and aims to secure forest’s potential for the future.

In the spirit of the European Green Deal, we want to show is that change is possible, with real benefits for all concerned.

What we propose is change at every stage. Changes in the way we protect, the way we manage, and the way we grow our forests and the use we make of the multiple services it provides.

For protection, in line with the Biodiversity Strategy, we propose strict protection of all remaining primary and old-growth forests in the EU. That way we preserve a unique legacy for future generations.

We are also finalising the proposal for legally binding restoration targets for ecosystems as part of a EU Nature Restoration Law. This also concerns forest ecosystems.

For management, what we need is to promote the most sustainable forest management practices at national and local levels, to better take care of climate and biodiversity objectives and therefore strengthen the resilience of EU forests.

That includes enhancing sustainable forest management and make it demonstrable.

We will make that happen by identifying additional indicators, thresholds and ranges for sustainable forest management, above all for the health of forest ecosystems, and for biodiversity and climate objectives.

In close cooperation with Member States and forest stakeholders, guidance on closer-to-nature forestry practices will be developed and their uptake promoted though a voluntary certification scheme.

Furthermore, we will propose a binding EU framework for Forest Observation and Reporting, possibly backed with national or regional authorities developing Strategic Plans. The overall focus will be on how forests can contribute to EU climate neutrality by 2030 and then 2050.

In the Biodiversity Strategy, the EU pledged to plant at least 3 billion additional trees in the course this decade.

This planting needs to happen in full respect of ecological principles.

So the Strategy proposes a roadmap for planting, and it encourages everyone to take part – citizens, grass roots initiatives, and all interested parties. We offer guidance on how to plant the right trees, in the right places, and for the right purpose.

Together with the European Environmental Agency we’ll make it easy to track the process with a website, an interactive map, and an integrated tree counter. 

My colleague Janusz explained the business and rural development aspects, but I must repeat that this really is a strategy for people as well as nature, and that means foresters as well.

We listened to them, we care about what they need, and we’re doing all we can to protect their livelihoods. I met many of them during my recent visits to Finland, Sweden and Germany and listened to their views and concerns.

To diversify their revenues we need to promote the uptake of schemes rewarding the preservation of ecosystem services, but also from non-wood products such as recreation and eco-tourism. We want to make sure they have better access to public funding to enhance the vitality of rural areas.

And I am very thankful to my colleague Janusz and of course to our services who worked very hard to prepare this document, but most importantly that we have a common narrative between the agricultural and environmental policies. Most importantly enabling foresters and their livelihoods.

We also propose life-long training and advice, to help foresters in the move towards truly sustainable forests management.

The level of public interest is very high, because forests play such a totemic role. They are great example of nature that’s there to be lived and enjoyed.

And I know that in some Member States forests are part of the culture, part of the heritage, probably even if their citizens’ blood, and we fully respect this and adore it.

Forests have to be protected of course, and have to be preserved for generations to come. Only resilient forests can bring all those multifunctionality that my colleague just mentioned.

Thank you!

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