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Soldi R., Cavallini S. (2018) “Sustainable Forest Management in Regions”

 
Committente: The European Committee of the Regions
Periodo: 2018
URL: Sustainable Forest Management in Regions”
 
Descrizione: 
 

Forests owned by local and regional authorities (LRAs) across the European Union (EU) represent an estimated 14% of the total EU forest area, equivalent to about 22 million of hectares. LRAs do not only own forests. They also manage forests, administer forest policy implementation, enforce forest laws, and provide support to private forest management. This study is meant to contribute to the upcoming review of the EU Forest Strategy (COM(2013)659) by collecting insights of LRAs’ experience in forest management, of their opinion on the impact the EU Forest Strategy has had so far at the territorial level, and of their expectations on the future priorities of the EU forest policy. In terms of type of owners, forests’ ownership at the sub-national level is prevalently (80%) with local authorities (municipalities, provinces, counties). Across the EU, local authorities own some 17.4 million hectares of forests and regional authorities about 4.5 million hectares of forests. In terms of distribution, sub-national public ownership of forests characterises the continental and the southern parts of Europe. The highest shares of forests owned by LRAs are found in Germany (48% of total forest area), Belgium (37%), Spain (37%), Luxembourg (34%) and Italy (24%). In eight EU countries, LRAs have either no forest ownership (Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Lithuania and Malta) or a share of forest ownership which is below 1% of the total forest area (Hungary, Poland and Portugal). Within the framework of this study, LRAs owning/managing forests were consulted by means of an online questionnaire. Because of the specificity of the topic and the difficulty in identifying ‘informed’ invitees, significant resources were deployed to mobilise respondents. As a result, a total of 70 questionnaires from 14 EU countries were received (i.e. submitted online), 40% of which were from regional authorities and the remaining 60% from local authorities. This number represents a rather low rate of response (below 10%) if compared to the dissemination effort. However, it is believed that completed questionnaires came from respondents who were sufficiently motivated and informed. Responding LRAs are forest managers (41%), forest owners (27%) or both (31%). Their forests are prevalently used for protection and conservation purposes, for social functions, and for timber production. The use of management plans, the inclusion of biodiversity considerations in these plans, and the pursuit of sustainable forest management principles appear to be common practices for the majority of them (76%). In addition, 39% of the public authorities participating in the consultation have some or all of their forests certified. This share rises to 46% for regional authorities. Overall, the evidence collected through the questionnaire and complemented with cases gathered through desk research shows that LRAs may be very active forest owners as well as forest managers who are concerned about sustainable management practices. As regards impact and according to the opinion and experience of the participants in the consultation, the EU Forest Strategy has so far progressed rather unsatisfactorily towards its main objectives. In particular, it is not considered to have contributed enough to stimulate the growth of forest-based industries (scored an average 4.8 on a scale from 1 to 10), and to satisfy the growing demand for raw material for existing and new products as well as for renewable energy (average score 5). Respondents have a slightly more positive perception of the impact forests and their management have at the territorial level, especially in terms of the improvement of the quality of the environment, and of citizens’ quality of life. However, the contribution of forests and their management to economic growth, job creation and rural development is still limited (on a scale from 1 to 10, average scores are 5.7, 5.5 and 5.8, respectively). Another area of concern relates to engagement. The EU Forest Strategy has apparently not succeeded in reaching out to institutional stakeholders at the local and regional level. More than two-thirds of the respondents state that their entity has not benefitted from general engagement activities such as EU level dissemination of forest-related results and good practices (70%) or EC forest-related information and communication activities (77%). With regard to some sector-specific initiatives of the EC, including in the regulatory domain, an important part of the respondents is not aware of them, pointing to evident problems in communication flows. The analysis of the funding of the forest sector highlights that, for the programming period 2014-2020, an overall (under)estimated amount of EUR 7.6 billion has benefitted forest-related activities, out of which about EUR 5.1 billion (67%) is contributed by EU funds. More precisely, EUR 7,132 million have been earmarked to the sector through Measure 8 and Measure 15 of the Rural Development Programmes (RDPs); EUR 93 million have been mobilised under the European regional policy (Interreg and the Solidarity Fund); and at least EUR 378 million have been mobilised under EU programmes directly managed by the EC (Horizon 2020, LIFE, and Erasmus+). In addition to grants and co-financing, about EUR 300 million have been lent through the European Investment Bank (EIB) and other funds aimed at facilitating investments in the sector. Therefore, to date allocations through RDPs represent 94% of the total funding of the sector, confirming the approach reiterated in the EU Forest Strategy to support forest-related activities mainly through the rural development policy. Although this approach is agreed by the majority of respondents (61%), funding needs remain unmet for almost half of them (47%) while a significant 37% admits that their entity does not use the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) for their forests. As regards expectations for the future, the majority of the consulted LRAs believe that the EU Forest Strategy is still a very important or an important framework for the development of the sector. In particular, some 60-70% of the respondents appreciate it as a strategic framework for the further exploration and promotion of the use of wood; the assessment of sustainability issues related to the use of forest biomass; the improvement of sectorial knowledge; and the provision of support to sectorial research and innovation. Notably, the EU Forest Strategy is considered an even more important framework for valuing forests, from the improvement of forests’ mitigation potential and the enhancement of forests’ adaptive capacity and resilience, to the valuing of ecosystem services. Instead, respondents are less convinced on the suitability of the EU Forest Strategy to stimulate market growth and internationalise EU forest-based industry products. In the opinion and experience of respondents, main obstacles to the contribution of local and regional authorities to key objectives of the EU Forest Strategy are both structural and strategic. More specifically, ‘problems related to forest ownership’ is by far the most selected obstacle (64% of the selections), followed by the ‘lack of coherence among the various policies which affect forestry’ (59% of the selections). ‘Unmet funding needs’ and the ‘existence of in-country conflicts at the institutional level’ represent a concern for almost half of the respondents (47% and 46%, respectively). ‘Insufficient economic benefits’ derived from forestry is an obstacle for 41% of the respondents. Therefore, with a view to bring more benefits to the territorial level, respondents believe that in the future the EU Forest Strategy should, above all, prioritise placing a value on forest-related public goods and services (67% of the selections), emphasise the contribution of the forest sector to climate change mitigation in the EU (60%), improve the governance structure in order to better reach out to forest owners and managers (56%), and make data readily available to stakeholders (54%). In line with the above findings, considerations for the future review of the EU Forest Strategy relate to two main aspects: the facilitation of LRAs’ contribution towards the accomplishment of the EU Forest Strategy’s objectives, and the meeting of LRAs’ expectations for the sector. There is evidence that LRAs may be active forest owners and/or managers who are concerned about sustainable management practices. There is also evidence that they may influence the behaviours of other forest owners, including private ones, and involve them in active and sustainable management. Facilitating LRAs’ contribution to the implementation of the EU Forest Strategy is therefore expected to bring multiple benefits. Towards this scope, accessibility to adequate EU funding needs to be improved. Apart from the RDPs, there are multiple funding sources for the forest sector but for those stakeholders who do not benefit from the EAFRD these alternative sources represent, overall, a very low share of the EU funds made available for forestry (less than 10%). Increasing the availability or accessibility of instruments facilitating investments at the territorial level is similarly important. Other areas where improvement is needed in order to enhance the role of LRAs in sustainable forest management relate to communication, engagement, information/data availability and dissemination, including in terms of good/best practices. In terms of LRAs’ expectations for the sector, the call is for increasing the coherence among the various EU policies which affect forestry as the guidance function of the EU Forest Strategy is undermined by uncoordinated EU policies. LRAs owning/managing forests appear to be left with the burden of finding trade-offs at the territorial level between policy drivers, market forces and societal demands. Another priority for LRAs is the revision of the governance structure of the EU Forest Strategy to improve the strategy’s capacity to reach out to those stakeholders that are actually implementing it on the ground. A third important priority relates to economic aspects. The expectation is that forestbased activities become economically viable and profitable. This requires placing a value on forest-related public goods and services, including the contribution to conservation and protection goals. Regarding the state of forests and forests’ functions, enhancing the resilience of forests to climate change and adversities as well as emphasising the contribution of the forest sector to climate change mitigation is considered another priority for the future.

 

Report for the European Committee of the Regions, 27 luglio 2018.