European policy consultants
Rural development and renewable energy

EU Environment ministers discussed a proposal for EU-wide rules to account for the greenhouse gas impact of land use and forestry.

Appropriate land uses and management practices in forestry and agriculture can help limit emissions of greenhouse gases and enhance their removal from the atmosphere. So far, however, farmers' and forest owners' efforts in this area have not been duly recognised in the Union's greenhouse gas accounting or included in its emission reduction targets.

Under the proposed two-stage approach, the first step would be the creation of harmonised accounting rules for emissions and removals resulting from LULUCF activities. Once these rules are in place, consideration could be given to formally including the LULUCF sector in the EU's greenhouse gas reduction commitment.

In addition, the Commission is proposing that member states set up national action plans on how to lower emissions and increase removals.

Martin Lidegaard, Danish Minister for Climate, Energy and Building, said that the ministers had generally welcomed the Commission's proposal.

Forests and agricultural land make up more than three-quarters of Europe’s landscape. While greenhouse gas emissions in the EU come mainly from energy production and other man-made sources, some emissions can be offset by the absorption of carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and stored in trees and other plants, soils, biomass and timber.


Extracts from the Commission proposal:

'... carbon is absorbed (removed) from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and stored in trees and associated wood products, and in other plants and soils. Therefore, appropriate land uses and management practices in forestry and agriculture can limit emissions of carbon and enhance removals from the atmosphere... In 2009, LULUCF (Land use, land use change and forestry) removed an amount of carbon from the atmosphere equivalent to about 9 % of the Union’s total greenhouse gas emissions in other sectors.'

'Agricultural measures, aimed at reducing the conversion of grassland and carbon losses from the cultivation of organic soils, could include improving agronomic practices such as using different crop species (e.g. more leguminous crops) and extending crop rotations'.

Note: Other greenhouse gases from agricultural activities, including methane and nitrous oxide from ruminants and fertilisers (arguably the most important), do not count under LULUCF, which deals primarily with carbon emissions and removals in vegetation and soils. Non-CO2 emissions from agriculture are included in a separate agriculture inventory.

'In addition to the opportunities directly linked to forestry and agriculture, there are potential
mitigation benefits in the related industries (e.g. pulp and paper, wood processing) and
renewable energy sectors if agricultural land and forests are managed for production of
timber and energy.'

'Incentives do exist to promote the use of bio-energy, but currently there is no coherent approach to climate change mitigation in the LULUCF sector through measures in agriculture, forestry and related industries.'

'... climate change mitigation could play an increasingly important role in the Common
Agricultural Policy (CAP). In the post-2013 Union rural-development policy, climate change
mitigation and adaptation could be tackled by offering better incentives for carbon sequestration in agriculture and forestry.'