Citizens often turn to the European Parliament to ask how the Parliament responds to the issue of forest fires and what actions the European Union can take.
In recent years, several countries around the world have been confronted with particularly intense and widespread forest fires. In 2021, forest fires severely affected California, Turkey and Mexico, in addition to yearly European hotspots, such as the Mediterranean.
The protection of forests in the European Union (EU) falls primarily under the national competence of the governments of EU countries. There are a number of ways, however, in which the EU contributes to preventing and helping in the case of forest fires, both through EU funding and EU mechanisms.
The European Parliament has repeatedly called on the European Commission and EU countries to do more to protect forests. The Commission has introduced protection mechanisms and a forest strategy for 2030.
European Parliament demands for better protection of forests
Recognising forests’ key role in climate action, the European Parliament has adopted several resolutions concerning the conservation of forests.
- In a resolution of September 2018, Parliament highlighted that sustainable and inclusive forest management and responsible use of forest commodities constitute the most effective and cheapest natural system for carbon capture and storage.
- In a resolution of January 2020, on the European Green Deal, Parliament called on the Commission to ‘present a new, ambitious EU forest strategy to give appropriate recognition to the important, multifunctional and cross-cutting role that European forests, the sector, and sustainable forest management have in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss’.
- In a resolution of September 2020, on the EU’s role in protecting and restoring the world’s forests, Parliament urged the EU and EU countries to recognise that the protection of native forests provides an outstanding climate mitigation benefit, and to restart the negotiations for an international forest convention.
- In a resolution of June 2021, Parliament welcomed the new EU forest strategy and underlined the importance of strengthening sustainable forest management.
EU plans to protect forests
A 2019 European Commission communication lays out actions to protect and restore forests outside the EU. Primary forests require special attention as they are unique and irreplaceable, have high carbon stocks, unique ecological features, and protect biodiversity. The EU aims to work in partnership with producer countries to reduce pressures on forests and to strengthen international cooperation to halt deforestation and forest degradation.
Regarding forests inside the EU, a 2021 European Commission communication (known as the ‘new EU forest strategy for 2030’) pursues the biodiversity and climate neutrality objectives enshrined in the European Green Deal and the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030. The strategy aims to improve the quantity and quality of EU forests by, for instance:
- providing education and training for people working in forest-based industries and making these industries more attractive to young people;
- promoting sustainable forest management;
- improving the size and biodiversity of forests, including planting three billion new trees by 2030;
- developing a strong research and innovation agenda to improve our knowledge on forests.
EU action to fight forest fires
The European Union actively supports forest fire prevention projects through its Regional Development Fund. Furthermore, the European Union Solidary Fund provides support to help EU countries tackle major natural disasters such as forest fires.
The European Union Civil Protection Mechanism ensures the rapid deployment of resources and personnel to any country in the world that requests assistance during crises such as forest fires. At the core of this mechanism is the Emergency Response Coordination Centre, which monitors forest fire risks and emergencies across Europe. This centre is supported by national and European monitoring services, including the European Forest Fire Information System.
In 2019, to strengthen the mechanism, the EU established a new European reserve of capacities. Known as rescEU, it includes firefighting planes and helicopters. For the 2022 forest fire season, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Sweden put a total of 12 firefighting planes and 1 helicopter at the disposal of other EU countries in case of an emergency. The European Commission will decide jointly with these EU countries on the deployment of the planes and helicopter.
- New EU forest strategy for 2030, European Parliamentary Research Service, At a Glance Note, February 2022
- Forest fires: Environmental stakes, European Parliamentary Research Service, Briefing, November 2020
- Legislation on protecting the EU’s forests against fire, European Commission
- Forest Fires, European Commission, Fact Sheet, June 2022
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