EU Policy Target Map of Forest and Forest-Related Policy

EU Policy Target Map of Forest and Forest-Related Policy

In this blog post, we go more in-depth into project Deliverable 4.1, which is the EU policy target map of forest and forest-related policy. Here, we present the deliverable and the policy context behind our project, as well as EU and EU member state forest management policies. 

Combining both a top-down and bottom-up approach, the EU is committed to transitioning towards a sustainable, low-emission and circular (bio)economy. The objectives reflect the commitments of the European Green Deal. In order to function, the Green Deal requires  comprehensive, well-informed/accurate policy measures. On the topic of its forests, which, as mentioned above, play a pivotal role in combatting climate change and biodiversity preservation, they require precise management strategies backed by accurate policy to function. Our PathFinder project fulfils those requirements, spearheading innovative forest monitoring and assessment across the EU’s forests, with the goal of building a strong foundation for accurate and inclusive (i.e. co-designed) forest policies, whilst at the same time being aligned with the region’s climate targets. 

Looking more closely at the project, task 4.1 serves as the first step and cornerstone to achieve this. It identifies and maps all pertinent policy targets that influence EU forests alongside forest management across various sectors and governance levels. The task is composed of two sections: (1) listing the targets as mentioned before, and (2) taking an in-depth approach to identifying key policy goals and objectives at both the EU and national levels in order to grasp a better idea of the surrounding context. In order to broaden the context, task leaders strategically selected member states from diverse regions within Europe to better capture (and represent) nuanced similarities and differences, as well as highlight the various interrelationships between forest and policy targets. On top of this, PathFinder seeks to uncover the tradeoffs within and between each of those policies, as well as the steps that have been/will be taken to resolve incoherencies, which is an essential component of future scenario development. 

To undertake this task,  policy researchers performed a literature review to identify key policy sectors that encompass overarching and cross-cutting policies at the EU and national levels. These sectors have been identified as the following, all playing a unique role in shaping forest governance within the EU: 

  • Forestry
  • Timber trade,
  • Agriculture and rural development
  • Nature conservation & environment
  • Climate change  
  • Bio-energy,
  • Water and soil 

As part of the policy map creation process, policy documents from both the EU and national levels were analysed, looking more closely at legally-binding and non-binding instruments. These included directives, regulations, acts, legislation, communications, strategies, guidelines, and plans. Such policy instruments were selected based on current sectoral relevance and significance, both directly and indirectly, on forest governance – identifying goals, objectives, and targets.   

In a nutshell, the results from the research are: when reviewing all policy sectors, there is a clear recognition of the multifunctional roles of forests. However, while forestry, nature conservation & environment and, to an extent, climate change policy sectors aim to sustainably preserve forests and their function (for carbon sequestration, biodiversity preservation etc), other forest-related sectors promote a management intensification (for instance in producing substitute to carbon-intensive products in the building sector, harvesting renewable sources of bioenergy etc.). At the EU and national levels, there was very poor integration of forests in water and soil sectors despite their inherent interconnectedness.  Overall the findings point to a persisting underdeveloped strategy in the EU forest governance in address unresolved policy trade-offs:  

  • EU-level policies emphasise sustainable forest management when aligning climate and biodiversity goals, as well as the prospective impact of agriculture and rural development policies on forestry through improving future incentives such as eco-schemes and incentives for carbon sequestration was identified;
  • Climate policies, since they position forests as providers of ecosystem services, often  face less trade-offs with conservation goals, both prioritising reduced intensification and forest expansion, biodiversity conservation and various  sustainable forest practices;
  • (Bio)energy policies aspire to integrate renewable energy, and in this context, through forest biomass, into a widespread sustainability framework, yet encounter tradeoffs with conservation and emission-reduction goals;
  • For water and soil policies, even though they are thematically interconnected with forest management, it has been found that they lack explicit policy alignment with forest and forest-related management strategies, both at a member state level and the EU level. The only exception to this was found to be Ireland, which does present such alignment. 

From the perspective of PathFinder, this research has very much highlighted the evolutionary nature of the policy landscape within the EU and (select) member states. Indeed, this analysis underscores the increase in recognition of the multifunctional role that forests play, which extends beyond the traditional perspective of forests and actively contributes to addressing contemporary challenges. The interconnected dynamic complexities between the analysed policies showcase the important of setting an integrated approach into place that actively fosters synergies and reduces trade-offs. Indeed, the latter, especially unresolved trade-offs, persist both throughout the EU and within member states. 

Complex, undefined, and immeasurable targets underline such tradeoffs and resulting conflicts, which must be addressed by replacing them with clear and actionable policy objectives across sectors. Such conflicts resulting from tradeoffs are mainly between conservations versus intensification of forest harvesting, with the added factors of carbon sequestration and nature preservation. These tradeoffs very much bring to attention the differentiating mindsets of “Nature for Nature” and “Nature for Society” (Framework of Nature’s Future), as well as the ever-growing challenge of reconciling increasing the use of forest biomass within bioeconomic policies with biodiversity conservation via expanding protected areas. 

To transition from tradeoffs to synergies, policy documents on sustainable forest management provide valuable guidance for policymakers, as they highlight how to establish concrete targets (and which ones to establish) as well as how to navigate such complexities with much greater precision. Forests are at the crossroads of various sectors and governance levels and are critical in achieving the EU’s goal of carbon neutrality in 2050. To do so, the interconnected dynamic complexities and the web of policies and regulations that are forests and their management must be understood whilst maintaining and expanding the sustainability and well-being of the forests at hand. Task 4.1 does just that, and is summarised in the public deliverable of D4.1, which can be found here

Task 4.1 serves as the foundational blueprint for the policy component of the Pathfinder project, cementing the interconnections between different policy sectors at multiple governance levels and across the diverse regions of Europe. By identifying and mapping the different policy demands, task 4.1 channels its findings into Task 3.1, where it directly influences the creation of future forest scenarios using CLUMondo (a spatially explicit and dynamics land system change model). Moreover, the outcomes of Task 4.1 further funnel into Task 4.5, enhancing the co-design process of forest management pathways. By providing a comprehensive policy target map, Task 4.1 equips stakeholders with an in-depth understanding of existing policies, allowing for more informed discussions in regional workshops, and fostering a more inclusive co-designing approach.

For any questions, please contact Daniel Di Marzo daniel.di.marzo@ifp.uni-freiburg.de

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