Greenhouse gas emissions from land use, land use change and forestry in Europe

The land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector could play a key role in achieving the EU’s goal of zero net emissions by 2050. LULUCF activities currently remove 230 Mt of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) from the atmosphere, equal to 7% of the EU’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. However, the EU’s carbon sink is currently decreasing, and is estimated to remove 212 Mt of CO2e in 2021. Based on Member State projections, measures currently in place will not be sufficient to reverse this trend. By implementing the additional measures planned, the EU’s carbon sink would increase between 2021 and 2040, but by only by 3%.

Published: ‒ 25min read

The EU aims to be climate neutral by 2050, as set out in the European Green Deal. Achieving this depends on not only a reduction in emissions, but also an increase in CO2 removals from the atmosphere. The land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector has the potential to play a key role in achieving net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

In 2020, the EU’s LULUCF sector accounted for the net removal of 230 Mt CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e), equal to 7% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions. However, CO2e removals have decreased in the past 10 years, mainly as a result of increased harvest rates. The lower sequestration of carbon by ageing forests in some Member States adds to this decline of net removals. Natural disturbances (e.g. wind throws, forest fires, droughts) cause inter-annual variations, and their increasing frequency has been affecting long-term trends. A decrease in the rate of net forest area gain has also contributed to the reduction in removals, but to a lesser extent. Cropland, grassland, wetlands and settlements are sources of LULUCF emissions at EU level, with managed organic soils accounting for a large proportion of these emissions.

Before 2020, no specific targets for LULUCF had been set. Regulation (EU) 2018/841 introduced national commitments for 2021-2030, stipulating that EU Member States must balance GHG accounted emissions from this sector with at least an equivalent accounted removal of CO2 (‘no-debit’ rule). This regulation is now being revised to include more ambitious targets:

· an EU-level net removal target of 310 MtCO2e by 2030, with national LULUCF targets for each Member State

· a pathway for achieving a climate-neutral land sector by 2035, combining emissions from agriculture with net removals from LULUCF.

However, Member State projections suggest that net removals will decrease at EU level, from an average of 298 MtCO2e per year in 1990-2020 to 191 MtCO2e in 2021-2040. Additional measures reported by Member States are expected to increase average net removals in 2021-2040 (9% compared to existing measures scenario). Given that removals of 190 MtCO2e are expected by 2030 with existing measures and 209 MtCO2e with planned additional measures, the EU is not on track to meet the proposed target of 310 MtCO2e. Therefore, more ambitious removal measures must be implemented by Member States, along with further reductions in emissions.

The Member States Sweden, Spain, Italy, Poland, Romania and France were responsible for the largest cumulative net removals from the LULUCF sector in the past 10 years, contributing to approximately 70% of the EU’s LULUCF sink. Although these countries are expected to remain the main contributors, all, except France, project a reduction in removals in the coming decade. France, on the other hand, along with eight other countries — Slovenia, Finland, Portugal, Greece, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Luxembourg — project increasing cumulative removals in the next decade. Germany, Latvia and Czechia, however, project a reversal in the trend for net removals from the LULUCF sector, with the sector expected to shift from net removals to net emissions in these countries. The LULUCF sectors in Denmark, the Netherlands and Ireland were a net source of emissions in the past decade and are projected to remain so in the coming decade.

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