News Q&A: New land use, forestry climate commitment

LULUCF in the EU
News Q&A: New land use, forestry climate commitment

Last month’s follow-up proposal set out a binding commitment for each Member State, and the accounting rules to determine compliance.

It becomes part of the EU’s commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

By 2030, Ireland must reduce agriculture, transport, waste, and residential emissions 30% below 2005 levels. But flexibilities in transfer of ETS allowances and inclusion of land use change and forestry credits may reduce Ireland’s target to 20.4%.

Land use and forestry emit greenhouse gas, but can also remove carbon from the atmosphere. Forests absorb the equivalent of nearly 10% of EU greenhouse gas emissions.

The Commission says incentives for climate-friendly land use and forestry ensure the continued growth and sustainable productivity of rural communities, which provide important services and economic benefit, and a sustainably managed land use sector can supply renewable energy and materials, ensuring the EU remains a world leader in these markets.

What is the “no-debit” commitment for land use?

The proposal requires each Member State to ensure that accounted carbon emissions from land use are entirely compensated by an equivalent removal of carbon from the atmosphere through action in the same sector.

This is referred to as the “no debit rule”.

In essence, if a Member State cuts down their forests (deforestation), it must compensate the resulting emissions by planting new forest (afforestation) or by improving the sustainable management of their existing forest, croplands and grasslands.

In this way, the “no-debit” commitment incentivises Member States to take actions that increase absorption of carbon in agricultural soils and forests.

The proposal enshrines the commitment in EU law for 2021-2030.

The proposal also contains the accounting rules to be used, so that compliance with the “no-debit” commitment is calculated consistently across all Member States.

The accounting rules regulate how emissions and removals (absorption of carbon by agricultural lands and forests) are to be recognised, measured and compiled in a standardised way.

What are the new flexibilities for Member States to achieve their targets?

If the net removals of carbon are greater than the net emissions of carbon from land use in the first compliance period (2021-2025), these can be banked and used in the next compliance period (2026-2030).

This gives Member States the flexibility to deal with fluctuations caused by growth cycles or other variable conditions.

If a Member State has net emissions from land use and forestry, it can use allocations from the Effort Sharing Regulation to satisfy its “no debit” commitment.

They can also buy and sell net removals from and to other Member States.

This encourages Member States to increase carbon removals beyond their own commitment.

Where a Member State generates net removals beyond their commitment by increasing forest area (afforestation) or through good practice in agriculture (managed grassland and managed cropland), a number of these credits can be used to comply with national targets in the Effort Sharing Regulation, although this amount is strictly limited to ensure the environmental integrity of these targets.

Only net credits generated domestically by afforested land, managed grassland and managed cropland can be transferred and used for compliance under the Effort Sharing Regulation.

Before a similar flexibility is considered for managed forest land, the robustness of reference levels for all Member States based on the new EU governance process should be evaluated.

How does the proposal account for natural disasters that affect forests?

Certain natural events can cause trees to fall during storms, die (for example from infection and pests) or burn in wildfires.

In the last 25 years, globally, forest fire seasons have already become 20% longer and more severe and this trend is expected to worsen in the coming decades due to increasing global temperatures.

The scale of emissions associated with extreme events that are driven by nature (natural disaster) can be substantial.

Emissions that are outside the control of Member States may be excluded from the accounts for land use and forestry. Clear rules limit this exemption to ensure that it does not create a loop-hole.

What are the benefits for citizens, farmers and foresters?

By helping to preserve and strengthen the capacity of our forests and soils to capture carbon in a sustainable way, this proposal benefits all Europeans.

Member States and the EU will be able to better assess climate change benefits related to agriculture and forestry, get a better understanding of effective climate protection measures in these sectors, while securing food production, protecting biodiversity, and encouraging development of a bio-based economy.

Emissions of biomass used in energy will be recorded and counted towards each Member State’s 2030 climate commitments.

This addresses the common criticism that emissions from biomass in energy production are not currently accounted for under EU law.

As forest management is the main source of biomass for energy and wood production, more robust accounting rules and governance for forest management will provide a solid basis for Europe’s post-2020 renewables policy.

The new rules will support farmers in developing climate-smart agriculture practices, which seek synergies between productivity, resilience and emissions reductions, without imposing restrictions or red tape for individual farms.

It will support foresters and forest-based industries through greater visibility for the climate benefits of wood products which have a longer life-time and which store carbon from the atmosphere for long periods.

It will provide a framework for Member States to incentivise more climate-friendly land use.

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