Science & Environment

Ministers back binding European forest agreement

Beech tree (Image: Emma Murtagh)
Image caption Not all of the conference's delgates stand behind the idea of a legally binding agreement

Ministers have agreed to back plans to introduce a legally binding agreement to protect Europe's forests.

Delegates also agreed to adopt resolutions that would help shape forest policy over the next decade.

On Tuesday, a report concluded that sustainable forestry management was essential if the EU was to reach its emission goals.

The ministerial agreement was signed at the sixth Forest Europe conference in Oslo, Norway.

The Norwegian host chairman, Rural Affairs Minister Lars Peder Brekk, said the signing of two ministerial declarations was a fitting end to Norway's four-year leadership of the Forest Europe process.

As well as signing the declaration to begin negotiations to establish a legally binding agreement (LBA), delegates also agreed to set a number of targets to be achieved by 2020.

These included all European countries implementing a national forest programme, which needed to contain climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Ministers also agreed to cut the rate of biodiversity loss within forest habitats by half, and take steps to eliminate illegal logging.

Poland's minister, Janusz Zaleski, said that the LBA declaration presented a "new chapter" in the management of Europe's forests.

However, he added that nations needed to ensure that any agreement would need the legal weight required to deliver progress on the ground.

"In order to effectively protect Europe's forests, we must not follow the example of other international processes, such as climate negotiations.

"Therefore it is important to assess the progress of improving the state of Europe's forests.

Mr Zaleski told reporters that Poland intended to use its six-month presidency of the EU, which begins in July, to help promote the process.

Binding concerns

But there was not universal support for adopting a legally binding agreement.

Sweden's Rural Affairs Minister Eskil Erlandsson told the conference that while he supported the concept of sustainable forest managment, he favoured a voluntary approach rather than an LBA.

"I do not believe in common legislation for forests across the pan-European region. Put simply, one size does not fit all," he said.

"We need to recognise the different geo-climatic and socio-economic conditions.

"Therefore, my conclusion is that the voluntary track is the best way of supporting the development and implementation of sustainable forest management."

However, he said he signed the declaration in order for negotiations to begin.

Responding to the minister's concerns, Mr Brekk said: "The most important thing is that all countries agree that we are start up this process.

"They all see that it is necesssary to have an agreement to secure a sustainable forest policy in the future.

"Of course, we then have to go through the negotiations in order to find out what each country thinks during this process."

As the conference closed and Spain took over the Forest Europe leadership, Mr Brekk was asked to comment on concerns that had been raised about Norway's high-profile $1bn climate deal with Indonesia, which included a two-year logging moratorium.

Media reports said environmental groups were unhappy that the fine detail of the deal had been influenced by logging industry lobbyists.

Mr Brekk explained that it fell outside his ministerial responsibilities, but observed:

"The partnership is still very much alive - of course it is," he told BBC News.

"For Norway - all forests are important, whether it be European forests or tropical forests."

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