Clear, transparent rules to protect the world’s forests

By Nicolae Stefanuta, MEP (Group of the Greens – Romania), SANTE Committee Member


The world as we know it is changing along with its climate. It’s a new dynamic that we not only have to be aware of, but it is crucial to take the right steps on the path of climate neutrality and environmental protection. This vision might be clear, but it all comes down to technical aspects and the EU is making progress. However, the steps are not perfect.

Protecting the world’s forests is a key element of the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. And there are three major fronts to highlight: fighting deforestation, nature restoration and forest monitoring.

The EU Regulation on deforestation-free supply chains

 More than 100 countries promised to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by the end of 2030. The EU Regulation on deforestation-free supply chains, a framework on which I worked as shadow rapporteur entered into force and will soon be operational.

This new set of laws is an important component in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss and a brand new instrument implemented in the summer.

The new laws will ensure that a set of key goods exported to the EU must be deforestation free and will no longer contribute to deforestation and forest degradation in the EU and elsewhere in the world.

The innovative element lies in the fact that companies will have to proove that the product has been produced on land that has not been subject to deforestation or forest degradation, including of primary forests, after 31 December 2020. It is a brave new step in the development of new technical solutions around the globe for protecting the world’s forests through responsibility and transparency.

 The EU Nature Restoration Law

I am glad that we have now an agreement on the EU’s Nature Restoration Law  after the moment in July when EP passed its mandate with a very thin majority and a series of obstacles during negotiations. It’s a piece of legislation that has met strong opposition and a lot of initial stipulations were changed. There were more than 2000 amendments, so it was a colossal fight for our future. It is unfortunate that the disputes have placed environmental protection in opposition to agricultural development after a massive an aggressive disinformation and scaremongering campaign from the right wing groups and industrial farming lobby.

Environmental protection and agricultural development must work together for a more sustainable future.

Europe is the fastest-warming continent according to the World Meteorological Organization. Extreme weather with droughts and floods has a disastrous impact precisely on European agriculture and the wellbeing of European citizens. Nature restauration measures and long term plans for a nature friendly Europe will help farmers and sustain the food security in a sustainable and healthy way.

The Nature Restoration Law aims to put in place recovery measures that will cover at least 20 % of the EU’s land and 20 % sea areas by 2030, and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. Around 80% of European natural habitats are in poor condition today and it is crucial to restore forests, rivers and lakes. In Romania, for example, a large area of almost 1000 hectares in the Făgăraș Mountains has been restored with healthy mixed forests and the rare European Bison has returned.

As the EU navigates the final stages of adopting this groundbreaking environmental law, a critical analysis is essential to understand its potential impact. While the law brings forth positive elements, the legislation may face challenges due to numerous exemptions and a lack of robust legal safeguards, raising questions about its long-term effectiveness and setting a potentially worrisome precedent for future EU law-making.

Timely implementation becomes crucial in ensuring that the EU maintains its leadership in environmental stewardship and sets a precedent for other regions to follow suit.

One of the pressing factors urging the prompt adoption of the law is the looming 2024 EU elections. The urgency stems from the realization that the law plays a pivotal role in enabling the EU to fulfill its global commitments on climate and biodiversity.

 Regulation on Forest Monitoring

Romania is home to the largest proportion of virgin forests that are left in the EU and it has a huge issue regarding illegal logging. The European Commission has expressed its concern about the phenomenon and its intention to continue to monitor the implementation and enforcement of EU environmental legislation in relation to forestry activities in Romania. In February 2020, the Commission opened an infringement procedure in this regard.

After my visit to Romanian forests in the summer, accompanied by fellow MEPs, we witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by illegal logging and irresponsible legal logging, particularly in protected areas. The issue is highly complex, yet European laws, coupled with the new EU regulation on forest monitoring, hold great potential for addressing these challenges. Unfortunately, on-site efforts are often impeded by corruption. The glaring reality is that many initiatives face obstacles due to inaccurate official data provided by the government.

The European Commission’s proposal for an EU Forest Monitoring Law responds to the imperative of monitoring the health and resilience of forests amidst various threats.

While EU Member States have their own assessment systems, there are notable gaps in reporting, especially concerning environment-related indicators. This regulation aims to remedy these challenges related to data credibility, advocating for uniform rules and practices in the collection and provision of information. In simpler terms, the information on paper should accurately reflect the ground reality. It was a huge priority that all forests in Europe should be monitored according to the same rules, including via satellites.

 An imperfect but crucial crossing

There is a lot of work ahead to efficiently protect the forests and natural habitats. European governments must implement their own strategies with their own instruments. And things will take time. The countries’ strategies will probably meet up with some forms of resistance due to local interests. But I trust that the governments, no matter which political color they are composed of, will realize the urgency and the help that the EU instruments will provide.

Following a decision of the Romanian Parliament, the pastures were removed from those eligible categories to be afforested through Romania’s recovery and resilience plan. But the Government has approved an emergency ordinance by which pastures are included once again in the category of agricultural land that can be afforested with funds from the recovery plan. So I expect things to work out in the end.

In Romania there are approximately 7 million hectares of forests, which cover approximately 29% of the country’s surface, compared to the European Union average, which is over 40%. Most of the forests are concentrated in and around the Carpathian Mountains. Protecting forests and afforesting vulnerable areas must be taken very seriously.

The degradation of forest ecosystems and their disappearance must be seen as a national and global security issue. Because that’s what they really are.