Forests and wooded land cover more than 40% of the European Union. Out of 182 million hectares, 134 million are available for supplying wood for timber and other commodities. Between 1990 and 2015, the surface area of forests on the continent even grew with tree cover increasing by an area the size of Greece as a result of reforestation and afforestation according to official documents.
Today, however, the continent faces high risks of deforestation due to agricultural expansion and the growing demand for wood. Amidst the skyrocketing prices for natural gas (upon which EU countries rely for heat for their citizens), cutting wood to heat houses could result in the uncontrolled cutting down of forests in some countries. For example, Hungary has eased logging rules to meet the increased demand for firewood as a result of surging gas and electricity prices.
What could the consequences of deforestation be in the EU? Let’s see what environmental experts have to say about this.
DevelopmentAid: What are the main consequences of increasing deforestation in Europe and what should countries do to counteract this?
“Deforestation has a number of negative consequences that affect Europe and the global community. First of all, deforestation exacerbates the effects of climate change because forests absorb CO2 emissions and cutting trees down means releasing this carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It is also important to consider the biodiversity loss and the cultural loss Europe may face because deforestation negatively affects animals, plants and people who live in and of forests. Moreover, despite occurring in the EU, deforestation leads to unsustainable land uses and alters the water cycle with an impact on food and water security. In order to counteract deforestation, countries should strengthen legislation on forest protection, including developing support policies, encouraging forest restoration and redirecting finance to support more sustainable land uses. For example, the production of palm oil, soya, coffee and many other products contributes to deforestation and forest degradation if not conducted in a sustainable way. From the institutional side, imposing stricter requirements on the import of these products in order to limit their import and working in partnership with producer countries to create deforestation-free supply chains can help to reduce pressures on forests. From the consumer side, we need to make responsible choices about the products we buy because what we consume has an impact: for example, we could avoid buying products containing palm oil and other products that are not produced sustainably. The place of origin of the food could be a good indicator: we should question this and try to eat local. From the producers’ side, food production should be combined with practices to conserve the biodiversity of lands.”
“As for the consequences of deforestation, we should cite the most important including those related to climate change, drought, erosion as well as the harmful effects on the biotope and the ecosystem in general. All this is not new because currently, we are witnessing huge deforestation increases all over the planet with harmful results and therefore, this crisis can only aggravate these, even in Europe. As for what to do, the most important thing is the protection of these living beings of the plant kingdom which comprises the woods and forests and which represent a heritage to be jealously preserved. Experts and techniques are not lacking and everything needs to be implemented with short- and long-term actions, taking into account the needs of families and small, medium and large industries. On the industrial side, for example, some substitution at the level of the material to be used for the manufacture of paper, the recycling of old furniture, and actions for preservation such as the fight against forest fires and illegal logging. In the long term, the creation of nurseries of natural species for the population of forests as well as trees for industrial purposes including construction, firewood, etc. At the housing level, the use of natural heating by adopting techniques such as the ‘Canadian well’ or heat pump, solar heating installations for water and photovoltaic installations for electricity, etc.”
“Protecting all remaining high carbon-density natural ecosystems (tropical moist forests, mangroves, peat swamps, etc.) globally is the maximum top priority for preventing GHG emissions and a mid-century biosphere tipping point. The most cost-effective way to protect ecosystems is often through community participation, which requires local communities to have secure resource tenure. The restoration and regeneration of natural ecosystems is also useful, but slow relative to protecting intact forests. This can be combined with conservation by arranging for downstream users to pay for true ecosystem values such as water catchment services. Better management of lower carbon-density ecosystems such as soils on farm and grazing land can also contribute if large areas are involved. Net decarbonisation of land use, energy, transport, and other sectors requires whole-economy thinking, improved choice awareness and technical support, all of which are needed everywhere to implement net zero commitments. All climate change mitigation investments should be justified by quantitative estimates of their GHG emission effects, with a strong bias towards the early delivery of large net GHG emission reductions and co-benefits. Finding ways to recapture gigatonne quantities of methane per month from the melting Arctic after 2030 is also essential and very urgent. For more information, take a look into my book.”
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