Article

The New EU Forest Strategy for 2030: A New Understanding of Sustainable Forest Management?

Abstract

Two decades after the pan-European set of indicators for sustainable forest management was adopted, the European Commission published the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030. We compared the documents on the basis of a content analysis to determine whether they share the same understanding of sustainable forest management. We looked at whether, and to what extent, the existing indicator set is fit for purpose to monitor progress towards the Strategy’s objectives, and the delivery of policy commitments. About two thirds of the identified objectives and commitments in the Strategy can be monitored at least partially by the pan-European set of indicators, whereas new indicators or approaches need to be developed for the remaining third. Several of the indicators are not linked to the Strategy, and some of them are only weakly linked to the policy issues addressed in the Strategy. Our comparison shows a few significant differences between the comprehensive vision of sustainable forest management formulated in the indicator set and the scope of the objectives and commitments in the Strategy. In particular, the forest policy concerns reflected in the Strategy address several issues which are not fully covered in the pan-European indicator set
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Citation: Lier, M.; Köhl, M.;
Korhonen, K.T.; Linser, S.; Prins, K.;
Talarczyk, A. The New EU Forest
Strategy for 2030: A New
Understanding of Sustainable Forest
Management? Forests 2022,13, 245.
https://doi.org/10.3390/f13020245
Academic Editors: Fred Cubbage and
Kathleen A. McGinley
Received: 10 December 2021
Accepted: 27 January 2022
Published: 5 February 2022
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Article
The New EU Forest Strategy for 2030: A New Understanding of
Sustainable Forest Management?
Markus Lier 1, * , Michael Köhl 2, Kari T. Korhonen 1, Stefanie Linser 3, Kit Prins 4and Andrzej Talarczyk 5
1Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), 80100 Joensuu, Finland; kari.t.korhonen@luke.fi
2Institute for Wood Science-World Forestry and Centre for Earth System Research and Sustainability (CEN),
University of Hamburg, 21031 Hamburg, Germany; michael.koehl@uni-hamburg.de
3
Department of Economics and Social Sciences, Institute of Forest, Environment and Natural Resource Policy,
University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, Feistmantelstrasse 4, 1180 Vienna, Austria;
stefanie.linser@boku.ac.at
4Independent Researcher, 1227 Carouge, Switzerland; kit.prins@gmail.com
5Forest and Natural Resources Research Centre Foundation, 02-491 Warsaw, Poland; andrzej@talarczyk.com
*Correspondence: markus.lier@luke.fi
Abstract:
Two decades after the pan-European set of indicators for sustainable forest management
was adopted, the European Commission published the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030. We
compared the documents on the basis of a content analysis to determine whether they share the same
understanding of sustainable forest management. We looked at whether, and to what extent, the
existing indicator set is fit for purpose to monitor progress towards the Strategy’s objectives, and the
delivery of policy commitments. About two thirds of the identified objectives and commitments in
the Strategy can be monitored at least partially by the pan-European set of indicators, whereas new
indicators or approaches need to be developed for the remaining third. Several of the indicators are
not linked to the Strategy, and some of them are only weakly linked to the policy issues addressed in
the Strategy. Our comparison shows a few significant differences between the comprehensive vision
of sustainable forest management formulated in the indicator set and the scope of the objectives and
commitments in the Strategy. In particular, the forest policy concerns reflected in the Strategy address
several issues which are not fully covered in the pan-European indicator set.
Keywords:
New EU Forest Strategy for 2030; Forest Europe; pan-European indicators; indicators for
sustainable forest management; implementation; progress monitoring
1. Introduction
The European Commission has adopted the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 [
1
] as
a flagship initiative of the European Green Deal [
2
]. The objective of the New EU Forest
Strategy for 2030 is to “set a vision and concrete actions to improve the quantity and quality
of EU forests and strengthen their protection, restoration and resilience”. The Strategy
places forest demands in the context of changing environmental conditions due to climate
change and meeting socio-economic needs.
Demands on forests have evolved recurrently over time, which has been reflected in
changing concepts of sustainability. Hans Carl von Carlowitz formulated the concept of
sustainable forest management in 1713 with regard to the backdrop of deforestation and
forest degradation and the accompanying uncertain timber supply [
3
]. The principle of
sustainable forest management was further developed in the 18th and 19th centuries and
was fundamental to restoring destroyed and overexploited forests in Central Europe and
to eliminating the timber shortage [
4
6
]. The special significance of the sustainability of the
multiple functions of forests, i.e., the sustainability of all functions of forests and not only of
the economic function of forests serving the timber market, was formulated by Dieterich [
7
].
In this context, the increasing demand for continuous forest cover and close-to-nature forest
Forests 2022,13, 245. https://doi.org/10.3390/f13020245 https://www.mdpi.com/journal/forests
Forests 2022,13, 245 2 of 20
management to maintain the multiple functions of forests also deserve mentioning [
8
,
9
].
In Germany, between 1933 and 1945, wood was seen as a universally applicable raw
material that ensured independence from imports of raw materials and energy sources.
Forest management was therefore exclusively focused on wood production [
10
]. Only
several decades later, at the second Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in
Europe (MCPFE), held in Helsinki in June 1993, general guidelines for sustainable forest
management in Europe were adopted by the Ministers responsible for forests and forestry
in Europe that “recognize the need to reconcile the legitimate and sustainable use of wood
and other forest products with all other functions of forests in the ecological and social
conditions prevailing in Europe, and that the conservation and appropriate enhancement
of biological diversity in all types of forests is an essential element in their sustainable
management” [
11
]. Based on these guidelines, criteria and indicators for sustainable forest
management (later referred as pan-European indicators) were developed in 1998, applied
for monitoring and reporting, amended and last revised in 2015 [
12
16
]. The pan-European
criteria and indicators address sustainable forest management in the context of forest policy
and governance, forest resources and carbon cycles, forest health and vitality, productive
functions, biological diversity, and protective functions, as well as with regard to socio-
economic functions.
In the following, we analyse the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 and identify the
objectives and commitments contained in the text in terms of the elements of forest man-
agement and policy that are addressed. It should be borne in mind that there is still no
consensus about the future of sustainable forest management in Europe. In particular, the
Strategy itself was criticised by the European Council for insufficient consultation of stake-
holders [
17
]. However, it is a formal, high level international statement of policy objectives
and commitments, even though it does not represent a consensus view, nor does it claim
to address all aspects of sustainable forest management. We then compare the objectives
and commitments of the Strategy with the pan-European indicators of sustainable forest
management, which represent the consensus of the 45 signatory countries of the Forest
Europe process and the European Union as regards sustainable forest management as a
whole [
14
]. This set divides the sustainable forest management concept into six criteria
and includes 11 qualitative indicators and 34 quantitative indicators. Qualitative indica-
tors are non-numerical factors for determining the level of progress towards a specific
objective or commitment and are used to measure phenomena that have no numerical
value. Quantitative indicators indicate a quantity that can be a pure number, an index,
ratio, or percentage. They give an objective measure of phenomena and are numerically
comparable. The indicators can be used to report on the various dimensions of sustainable
forest management [18].
The two documents emerge from very different processes. The pan-European set
of Criteria and indicators was developed in the context of Forest Europe, an informal
process of the pan-European Ministers responsible for forests and the EC. Forest Europe
outputs are not legally binding and are based on consensus. Although Forest Europe has
made several commitments to sustainable forest management, the indicator set itself does
not contain targets or even qualitative objectives or commitments for sustainable forest
management, but systematically defines the indicators which should be monitored to assess
progress towards sustainable forest management, all in the context of the agreed definition
of sustainable forest management (Helsinki Resolution H1) [
19
]. The indicator set has
been used notably as a framework for data collection and for the successive studies on
the state of Europe’s forests, presented to the Ministerial Conferences of the Forest Europe
process [13,2022].
The New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 is a policy instrument in the supranational EU
framework, which sets objectives, very few of which are quantified targets, and makes pol-
icy commitments. It “aims to overcome these challenges [i.e., those facing EU forests] and
unlock the potential of forests for our future, in full respect for the principle of subsidiarity,
best available scientific evidence and Better Regulation requirements. It is anchored in the
Forests 2022,13, 245 3 of 20
European Green Deal and the EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy and it recognises the central
and multi-functional role of forests” [
1
]. The Strategy is part of an ongoing process which
is intended to produce EU policy instruments, some of which may be legally binding [
17
],
although the Strategy itself is not.
The Strategy mentions sustainability many times, and the phrase sustainable forest
management” occurs ten times, in a variety of contexts (“sustainable forest management
practices”, “sustainable forest management framework”, “sustainable forest management
concept”), and there are references to a “sustainable forest bioeconomy”, seen as the value
chain based on the sustainable supply of wood and other goods and services from the
forest. However, the Strategy does not explicitly state that its main objective is to achieve
sustainable forest management in the EU, nor that it addresses all aspects of sustainable
forest management. In this respect, the perspective of the Strategy differs from the indicator
set, which does explicitly aim to be comprehensive and structured in its conceptual basis.
In fact, the titles of the two documents accurately reflect this difference: “New EU Forest
Strategy for 2030” v. “pan-European indicators for sustainable forest management”.
It must be borne in mind that New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 is a policy document,
focusing on the directions of future action in the EU context, whereas the pan-European
indicators are intended to be a conceptual framework for monitoring and analysis, with no
“direction” of progress expressed in any of the indicators.
Even though the pan-European set has been revised twice, the majority of pan-
European indicators has been relatively stable over the past quarter century. However,
circumstances have changed over that period, politically and socially, such as the increased
areas of competence of the EU, the success of “green” parties, and the acceptance of their
policies by other parties [
23
26
] and as regards climate change and energy. The objective of
this paper is to compare the New EU Forest Strategy 2030, with the set of pan-European
indicators for sustainable forest management. On that basis, we discuss whether, and
to what extent, the conceptual framework necessary for monitoring progress towards
policy objectives, such as those formulated by the Strategy, and the delivery of policy
commitments, should be adjusted to the changing reality. By carrying out this comparison
we provide a comparative analysis to inform future discussions on the development of
indicators and monitoring systems.
In our paper we determine how well the pan-European indicators might serve as a
measuring and monitoring tool for the New EU Strategy 2030. We focus on the following
four research questions:
1.
Which elements of forest management and forest policy are addressed by the New
EU Forest Strategy for 2030, particularly in its objectives and commitments?
2.
Which elements of the pan-European indicators are relevant to the New EU Forest
Strategy for 2030?
3.
Which objectives and commitments of the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 could be
monitored by the pan-European indicators for sustainable forest management as a
basis for monitoring, assessment, and reporting?
4.
Which of the pan-European indicators for sustainable forest management have no
corresponding elements in the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030?
2. Material and Methods
The two documents consulted for our analysis are the New EU Forest Strategy for
2030 [
1
] and the pan-European criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management
as published in the Madrid Ministerial Declaration of the Forest Europe process [
14
]
(see also Supplementary Materials, Table S1). Following Bauer [
27
] and Perakyla and
Ruusuvuori [
28
], we conducted first a desk survey of the full text of the New EU Forest
Strategy for 2030 to identify the elements of forest management and forest policy addressed
by the stated objectives and commitments.
Then, we conducted a quantitative content analysis [
29
,
30
] by screening the text
of the strategy for selected keywords, which were identified from the titles of the pan-
Forests 2022,13, 245 4 of 20
European indicators and the accompanying descriptions found in the latest update of the
indicators [
14
]. The keywords, which are presented in Supplementary Materials (Table S1),
were then queried by a text search for match in the text document of the New EU Forest
Strategy for 2030 without considering the relevant context (www.atlas.ti, last accessed on
1 December 2021
). This approach makes it possible to discover and systematically analyse
complex phenomena hidden in primary text material.
Since this straightforward way of screening only counts hits for keywords in the source
text without looking at the context, this analysis can result in misleading findings [
31
].
Therefore, following the quantitative content analysis, we performed a qualitative content
analysis. The content analysis identified those pan-European indicators which might be
suitable tools for future monitoring, reporting and assessment of the progress towards
the objectives and commitments, and thus contribute to presenting the implementation
efforts of the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030. We also identified indicators which are
only partially or not suitable for progress monitoring and may need adaptation to serve
those purposes. Our approach is also suitable for gap analysis on those objectives and
commitments which cannot be assessed by any of the pan-European indicators. Thus, we
identified those pan-European indicators whose elements are not addressed in the New EU
Forest Strategy for 2030.
3. Results
3.1. Which Elements of Forest Management and Forest Policy Are Addressed by the New EU Forest
Strategy for 2030 Particularly in Objectives and Commitments?
The New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 [
1
] is divided into eight main sections. However,
objectives and commitments are formulated only in Sections 2–5. Table 1presents the main
sections and subsections as well as more detail on the main ideas underlying the Strategy,
but does not address the objectives and commitments themselves, which are presented in
also Supplementary Materials, Table S2 and summarised in Table S2.
The Helsinki definition of sustainable forest management is quoted in the Strategy,
which makes many references to sustainability, including “sustainable use”, “within limits
of sustainability”, etc., without, however, defining these terms.
The New EU Forest Strategy for 2030, as a policy document, formulates objectives and
commitments without specifying how progress towards each objective should
be monitored
.
In the Strategy, there are clear statements that indicators additional to the pan-
European indicators are needed, especially related to ecosystem health, biodiversity, and
climate change. The Strategy calls for identifying “additional indicators as well as thresh-
olds or ranges for sustainable forest management concerning forest ecosystem conditions,
such as health, biodiversity and climate objectives” [
1
]. This is in line with the ambition to
introduce comprehensive monitoring of the condition of forests in Europe.
Some of the objectives and commitments in the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 are
closely linked (often direct quotations or cross references) with other EU policy instruments,
notably the EU Biodiversity Strategy and the two Renewable Energy Directives. Examples
are commitments to, “plant at least 3 billion additional trees by 2030 in full respect of
ecological principles” [
1
], or “strictly protecting all remaining EU primary and old-growth
forests” [
1
], both included in the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 [
32
]. All the objectives
and commitments in Section 2.2 of the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 have already been
included in other EU instruments, namely the two renewable Energy Directives.
Forests 2022,13, 245 5 of 20
Table 1.
Structure and main elements of the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030. The underlined text
highlights the key concepts in the main ideas formulated.
Headings of Substantive Sections and
Sub-Section
Main Ideas Formulated, by Sub-Section (Not Including Specific Objectives and
Commitments which are Covered in Table 2)
2. Supporting the socio-economic functions of
forests for thriving rural areas and boosting
forest-based bio-economy within sustainability
boundaries
Forest-based value chains support jobs in the green economy
Sustainably produced and long-lived wood-based products can help to achieve
climate neutrality
Crucial to optimise the use of wood in line with the cascading principle
Short-lived wood products and energy also play a role, especially in substituting fossil-based
counterparts. Should rely on wood that is unsuitable for long-lived products and on
secondary biomass
Respect for circular economy principles also crucial: better using, reusing and recycling all
wood-based products
Supply of wood products should be in synergy with improving the conservation status of
forests, and preserving and restoring biodiversity for forest resilience, climate adaptation and
forest multifunctionality
Equally important is a variety of non-wood products and services
2.1. Promoting sustainable forest bioeconomy
for long-lived wood products
Sector has significant economic potential for improving production of
sustainable and legally harvested wood for circular and long lived materials and products
The most important role of wood products is to help turn
the construction sector from a GHG source to a sink.
Demand side actions (e.g., combating misconceptions about fire) are also required
Regulatory approaches (e.g., for fire safety) also need attention
Incentives for carbon sequestration should also include wood/forest dimensions
2.2. Ensuring sustainable use of wood-based
resources for bioenergy
Bioenergy will continue to have a notable role to play in the energy mix, if biomass is
produced sustainably and used efficiently . .. in line with overall availability of wood within
sustainability boundaries.
Where no effective wood material utilisation is possible, bioenergy has role in improving
livelihoods of primary producers, namely foresters and farmers.
The overall objective of the Union should be to ensure that the share of forest-based bioenergy
remains within the limits of sustainability its possible negative externalities are adequately
mitigated.
2.3. Promoting non-wood forest-based
bioeconomy, including ecotourism
The potential of non-wood products and services for generating
additional revenues to the owning communities can be further supported
Nature tourism and well-being services provide an opportunity to
accelerate the green transition of the tourism sector and provide significant income
opportunities in rural areas, while further promoting biodiversity conservation and the
preservation of carbon stocks.
2.4. Developing skills and empowering people
for sustainable forest-based bioeconomy
The increasing multifunctional role that forests will play in the transition to a sustainable and
climate neutral future will require an increased skill-set
3. Protecting, restoring and enlarging EU’s
forests to combat climate change, reverse
biodiversity loss and ensure resilient and
multifunctional forest ecosystems
In light of climate change and biodiversity loss there is an urgent need for
adaptive forest restoration and ecosystem-based management approaches that strengthen the
resilience of EU forests
This is also a great economic opportunity, provided forest owners and managers are properly
supported in the transition
We need robust approaches to risk reduction in the context of significant uncertaintyThis
awareness (of climate change by forest owners and managers) needs to be increasingly
translated into actions and management practices
3.1. Protecting EU’s last remaining primary
and old-growth forests
All primary and old-growth forests in particular will have to be strictly protected
. . .
they are not
only among the richest EU forest ecosystems but they store significant carbon stocks and also
remove carbon from the atmosphere, while being of paramount importance for biodiversity and
the provision of critical ecosystem services
3.2. Ensuring forest restoration and reinforced
sustainable forest management for climate
adaptation and forest resilience
Forest management practices that
preserve and restore biodiversity
lead to more resilient forests
that can deliver on their socio-economic and environmental functions. Therefore, all forests
should be increasingly managed so that they are sufficiently biodiverse.
Taking care of forest soil is particularly important as there is a strong interdependence between
trees and the soil on which they grow.
Forests 2022,13, 245 6 of 20
Table 1. Cont.
Headings of Substantive Sections and
Sub-Section
Main Ideas Formulated, by Sub-Section (Not Including Specific Objectives and
Commitments which are Covered in Table 2)
3.3. Re- and afforestation of biodiverse forests
There is potential for extending forest and tree coverage in the EU through active and
sustainable re- and afforestation and tree planting.
This concerns mainly urban and peri-urban areas ( . . . ) and agricultural areas ( . .. )
It is important to capitalise on this potential as enhanced afforestation is also among the most
effective climate change and disaster risk mitigation strategies and can create substantial
job opportunities. Also, exposure to green and forested areas can greatly benefit people’s
physical and mental health.
3.4. Financial incentives for forest owners and
managers for improving the quantity and
quality of EU forests
Strengthened forest protection and restoration and more biodiversity friendly management are
the right thing to do, but will not happen without the engagement of forest owners and
managers. The right thing to do must also be economically viable.
Forest owners and managers need drivers and
financial incentives to provide also ecosystem services and to increase the resilience of their forests.
4. Strategic forest monitoring, reporting and
data collection
The information concerning the status of forests in the EU, is patchy and there is
insufficient planning for the forests. This leads to a situation where, on the one hand, Member
States have agreed at EU level to rely to a great extent on forests and forest-based bioeconomy
and on the other hand, there is no strategic framework, which would make it possible to
demonstrate that the EU is on the right track and that the forests can actually deliver on their
multiple demands and functions.
5. A strong research and innovation agenda to
improve our knowledge on forests
Research and innovation will increase the
effectiveness of enhanced sustainable forest management under changing climate conditions,
among others, by reinforcing the knowledge on climate change impacts, contributing to a greater
diversity of forests and genetic resources, and providing evidence-based and practically feasible
guidance for climate change mitigation and adaptation in line with biodiversity objectives.
6. Inclusive and coherent EU forest governance
framework
The wider contribution of forests to the European Green Deal objectives necessitates a
more inclusive and better coordinated EU forest governance structure, reflecting all the
objectives of the new EU Forest Strategy and their interlinkages. Given the increasing interest of the
European public in the future of EU’s forests,
transparency
of the governance should also be guaranteed
7. Stepping up implementation and
enforcement of existing EU acquis
The implementation and enforcement of the EU acquis of relevance for forests and forest
management issues needs to be stepped up, for instance, the Habitats and Birds Directives, the
EU Timber Regulation and many more.
3.2. Which Elements of the Pan-European Indicators Are Relevant to the New EU Forest Strategy
for 2030?
Using a quantitative content analysis, the text of the New EU Forest Strategy for
2030 [
1
] was screened for keywords derived from the indicator titles and a short description
of the revised 34 pan-European indicators for sustainable forest management [
14
] (see also
Supplementary Materials, Table S1). Figure 1presents the number of matches for each
indicator. For 21 indicators at least one match could be found. More than 10 matches can
be assigned to the following pan-European indicators:
Indicator 1.4 Forest carbon
Indicator 2.2 Soil condition
Indicator 3.4 Services
Indicator 4.9 Protected forests
Indicator 5.1 Protective forests
Indicator 6.9 Wood energy
Not mentioned in the Strategy are the keywords associated with indicators 1.2. Grow-
ing stock, 1.3 Age structure and/or diameter distribution, 2.1 Deposition and concentra-
tion of air pollutants, 2.3 Defoliation, 3.1 Increment and fellings, 3.3 Non-wood goods,
4.1 Diversity
of tree species, 4.3 Naturalness, 4.4 Introduced tree species, 4.8 Threatened
forest species, 6.2 Contribution of the forest sector to GDP, 6.6 Occupational safety and
health, and 6.7 Wood consumption.
However, this simple, quasi-automatic matching of keywords with indicators may
be misleading, because of ambiguities arising notably from multiple meanings of certain
terms. For example, the keyword “trade”, which is referenced in Indicator 6.8 as “trade
Forests 2022,13, 245 7 of 20
in wood” and refers to “imports and exports of wood and products derived from wood”,
is also used in the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 [
1
], but here in the context of trading
carbon certificates [
1
], and as a text component of “trade-offs” [
1
], and the Forest Law
Enforcement for Governance and Trade (FLEGT) regulation [
1
]. Similarly, the keyword
fragmentation, which refers to forest fragmentation in indicator 4.7, is mentioned by the
Strategy in the context of “fragmentation of public research efforts in the EU” [
1
]. The list
of pan-European indicators, which are not mentioned in the New EU Forest Strategy for
2030, should therefore perhaps be extended.
Figure 1.
Number of matches of keywords identified in the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 related to the
34 pan-European indicators for sustainable forest management (see also Supplementary Materials, Table S1).
Therefore, only rough patterns can be uncovered using quantitative content analysis.
The results shown here should therefore be interpreted with caution. Because of this
problem, the quantitative content analysis is supplemented by a qualitative content analysis.
3.3. Which of the Objectives and Commitments of the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 Could Be
Monitored by the Pan-European Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management as a Basis for
Monitoring, Assessment and Reporting?
Under Sections 2 to 5 of the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 using qualitative analysis
presented in detail in the Supplementary Materials, we identified not only the objectives and
commitments, but also the parameter(s) which would have to be measured or monitored
to evaluate progress and the compatibility of these parameters with the existing pan-
European indicators. We investigated which indicators would be useful for monitoring
Forests 2022,13, 245 8 of 20
progress towards these objectives (Table 2, and Supplementary Materials, Table S2) and
commitments (Table 3, and Supplementary Materials, Table S3). Whereas Figure 1presents
only matches between keywords for the Strategy and the indicators—with no analysis
of the nature of the link—Figure 2presents linkages where we consider, after analysing
the linkage in question, that the pan-European indicators could contribute to monitoring
progress towards the objectives and commitments, either in full or in part. The links have
been sorted into three adjustment groups:
Yes: the indicator(s) mentioned is/are fully appropriate to monitoring progress of the Strategy;
Partial: the indicator(s) mentioned is/are partially appropriate to monitoring progress
of the Strategy; and
No: none of the indicators are appropriate to monitoring progress towards the Strategy.
Figure 2.
Number of objectives and commitments identified in the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030
for which each pan-European quantitative indicator could be useful. Solid bars represent indicators
that were identified as fully appropriate to monitor progress (“Yes” in the list above). Hatched bars
represent the cases in which indicators were identified as partially appropriate to monitor the progress
of objectives and commitments (“Partial”). The cases where the whole pan-European indicator set is
linked to an objective or commitment have been excluded from the figure for clarity. Indicators for
which no links to objectives and commitments were identified are marked by “”.
Figure 2presents those links which we have assigned to the categories “Yes” and
“Partial”. The links themselves are listed in Table 2(objectives, summarised), Supple-
mentary Materials, Table S2 (objectives, detail), Table 3(commitments, summarised) and
Supplementary Materials, Table S3 (commitments, detail).
Forests 2022,13, 245 9 of 20
Table 2. Objectives of the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 and corresponding pan-European indicators.
Headings of Substantive Sections and Sub-Section Objectives
Referred to in the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030
(Formulations Abbreviated for Easier Understanding. Table S2
in the Supplementary Materials Provides the Full Texts.)
Relevant Pan-European Indicators
Are pan-European
Indicators Appropriate
to Monitor Progress?
2.1. Promoting sustainable forest bioeconomy for long-lived wood products
Stimulating demand in industries 6.7 Wood consumption Partial
Practices better adapted to different forest resources None No
Investments throughout wood processing chain 6.4 Investments in forests and forestry Yes
Support for industries adaptation to changing forests
Qualitative indicator C6 Policies, institutions
and instruments to maintain other
socioeconomic functions and conditions
Qualitative indicator 4: Financial and
economic instruments
Partial
Combating misconceptions about wood behaviour in fire None No
Incentives for wood construction None No
Full benefits of wood construction in risk premiums and business
models None No
Research and innovation for green design and construction
Qualitative indicator C6 Policies, institutions
and instruments to maintain other
socioeconomic functions and conditions
Partial
Regulations for long lasting wood products: energy/environmental
performance, ecolabels, crucial phases in construction None No
Long-lived wood products in carbon farming and certificates 6.7 Wood consumption Partial
Roadmap for reducing carbon emissions in buildings None No
2.2. Ensuring sustainable use of wood-based resources for bioenergy
Sustainability criteria for biomass energy 6.9 Wood energy Partial
Minimise use of whole trees for energy 6.9 Wood energy Partial
Prohibit sourcing of forest biomass from primary forests and limit it
in highly biodiverse forests 6.9 Wood energy Partial
GHG emission saving criteria for energy installations None No
Strengthen sustainability safeguards of forest-based bioenergy 6.9 Wood energy Partial
Ensure forest biomass energy remains within limits of sustainability
6.9/whole set (for sustainability) Partial
Fair access to raw material for high value-added biobased solutions
and sustainable circular economy None No
No support for energy from sawlogs and veneer logs 6.9 Wood energy Partial
Limit state aid for electricity-only plants None No
2.3. Promoting non-wood forest-based bioeconomy, including ecotourism
Coordinated programmes on sustainable production of non-wood
forest products
3.3 Non-wood goods
Qualitative indicator C3 Policies, institutions
and instruments to maintain and encourage
the productive functions of forests
Partial
Promote collaboration on ecotourism None No
Sustainable tourism products, especially in protected areas 4.9 Protected forest areas
6.10 Recreation in forests Partial
2.4. Developing skills and empowering people for sustainable forest-based bioeconomy
Develop curricula, knowledge and skills None No
Promote education on the role of forests None No
Forests 2022,13, 245 10 of 20
Table 2. Cont.
Headings of Substantive Sections and Sub-Section Objectives
Referred to in the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030
(Formulations Abbreviated for Easier Understanding. Table S2
in the Supplementary Materials Provides the Full Texts.)
Relevant Pan-European Indicators
Are pan-European
Indicators Appropriate
to Monitor Progress?
3.1. Protecting EU’s last remaining primary and old-growth forests
Protect 30% of EU land area of which 10% strictly 4.9 Protected forest areas Yes
All primary and old-growth forests strictly protected 4.3 Naturalness
4.9 Protected forest areas Partial
Common definition for primary and old growth forests and for the
strict protection regime 4.3 Naturalness Partial
Keep natural processes in primary forests, limiting extractive
human activities
4.3 Naturalness
6.10 Recreation in forests Partial
3.2. Ensuring forest restoration and reinforced sustainable forest management for climate adaptation and forest resilience
Ensure all forests sufficiently biodiverse All Forest biological diversity indicators
4.1–4.10 Partial
Essential management practices to support biodiversity and
resilience
4.1 Diversity of tree species
4.2 Regeneration
4.6 Genetic resources
Partial
Management practices to ensure long-term environmental and
socio-economic viability of forests
1.1 Forest area
1.3 Age structure and/or diameter distribution
4.5 Deadwood
4.9 Protected forests
Partial
Risk management practices to increase forest resilience 2.4 Forest damage Partial
Caution on management practices which affect biodiversity and
cause carbon loss
1.4 Forest carbon
All Forest biological diversity indicators
4.1–4.10
Partial
No removal of stumps and roots None No
No logging during bird-nesting period 4.10 Common forest bird species Partial
Protect soil properties and ecosystem services 2.1 Soil condition
5.1 Protective forests Partial
Prevent climate related damage and increase resilience 2.4 Forest damage Partial
Restore and reforest better None No
Secure genetic resources 4.6 Genetic diversity Partial
Promote forest reproductive material suitable for future climatic
conditions None No
Monitor tree health and encourage preventive action
2.2 Soil condition
2.3 Defoliation
4.4 Introduced tree species
Yes
Pest management strategies None No
Enhance sustainable forest management framework, notably as
regards ecosystem health, biodiversity and climate change. Identify
additional indicators as well as thresholds or ranges concerning
forest ecosystem conditions
Whole set of indicators Partial
Guidelines on closer-to-nature forestry None No
3.3. Re- and afforestation of biodiverse forests
Increase forest area 1.1 Forest area Yes
Plant 3 billion additional trees 4.2 Regeneration Partial
Thereby increase forest cover and, with that, the carbon sink and
stock
1.1 Forest area
1.4 Forest carbon Yes
Forests 2022,13, 245 11 of 20
Table 2. Cont.
Headings of Substantive Sections and Sub-Section Objectives
Referred to in the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030
(Formulations Abbreviated for Easier Understanding. Table S2
in the Supplementary Materials Provides the Full Texts.)
Relevant Pan-European Indicators
Are pan-European
Indicators Appropriate
to Monitor Progress?
3.4. Financial incentives for forest owners and managers for improving the quantity and quality of EU forests
In public forests strengthen forest protection and restoration efforts
4.9 Protected forests
2.5 Forest land degradation Partial
Incentives to provide ecosystem services and increase resilience
3.2 Roundwood,
3.3 Non-wood forest products
3.4 Services
6.3 Net revenue of forest enterprises
Partial
Payment schemes for ecosystem services
3.2 Roundwood,
3.3 Non-wood forest products,
3.4 Services
6.3 Net revenue of forest enterprise
Partial
Accelerate roll-out of carbon farming practices None No
4. Strategic forest monitoring, reporting and data collection
Forest management plans (FMPs) for all public forests and more
private forests
Qualitative indicator C3 (Forest management
plans are not a specified indicator but they are
reported on in the context of the global Forest
Resource Assessment, through Forest Europe
and its partners.)
Partial
FMPs to include risk assessment and management and better
integrate biodiversity-related data None No
Possibly set further criteria to ensure FMPs meet climate,
biodiversity, bioeconomy and social and rural development
objectives of the Strategy
None No
5. A strong research and innovation agenda to improve our knowledge on forests
Promote a science-based contribution of EU forests to the European
Green Deal ambitions None No
Reinforce knowledge on climate change impacts, to provide
guidance for climate change mitigation and adaptation in line with
biodiversity objectives
None No
Holistic approach on new and emerging pests and diseases 2.4 Forest damage Partial
Research and innovation mission on soil health and food 2.2 Soil condition Partial
Improved understanding of primary and old-growth forests and of
their biodiversity and climate functions None No
More value on sustainable and multifunctional forests and to
maximise their benefits for society
Qualitative indicator C6 Policies, institutions
and instruments to maintain other
socioeconomic functions and conditions
(Qualitative indicator C6.)
Qualitative indicator 4 Financial and economic
instruments
Partial
Research and innovation on agroforestry systems None No
Diversify income of forest owners and managers, and increase
sustainability and circularity
3.2 Roundwood
3.3 Non-wood forest products
6.3 Net revenue of forest enterprises
Partial
Forests 2022,13, 245 12 of 20
Table 3.
Main commitments by the European Commission in the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030
and corresponding indicators from the pan-European indicator set.
Headings of Substantive Sections and Sub- Sections and Related Commitments
by the European Commission (Those, Which Are Included in the Text Boxes in
the Strategy, Abbreviated for Easier Comprehension.)
Relevant Pan-European
Indicators
Are the Pan-European
Indicators Appropriate
to Monitor Progress?
2. Supporting the socio-economic functions of forests for thriving rural areas and boosting forest-based bio-economy within sustainability boundaries
Establish a methodology to quantify the climate benefits of wood construction
products and other building materials 1.4 Forest carbon Partial
Provide new means to share information on good practices on best design and
implementation of forest-relevant interventions. None No
Promote the use of the Natura 2000 logo for non-wood forest-based products and
services.
3.3 Non-wood goods
3.4 Services
4.9 Protected forests
Partial
Taxonomy Climate Delegate Act technical screening criteria for forestry and
bioenergy to take better into account biodiversity friendly practices that are under
development such as close to nature forestry.
None No
New alliance between the professionals of tourism and foresters 6.10 Recreation in forests Partial
Toolkit to establish programs and advice to foresters and adapt education and
training to the challenges and needs of today’s forest needs and realities, and
develop employment opportunities
6.5 Forest sector workforce Partial
Skills partnership to work together to increase the number of upskilling and
reskilling opportunities in forestry. 6.5 Forest sector workforce Partial
3. Protecting, restoring, and enlarging EU’s forests to combat climate change, reverse biodiversity loss and ensure resilient and
multifunctional forest ecosystems
Legally binding instrument for ecosystem restoration, including forest ecosystems. 2.5 Forest degradation Partial
Guidelines on the definition of primary and old-growth forests, including their
definition, mapping, monitoring and strict protection, 4.3 Naturalness Partial
Identify the additional indicators as well as thresholds or ranges for sustainable
forest management, and assess how these could best be used Whole set Yes
Guidelines on biodiversity friendly afforestation and reforestation
4.1 Diversity of tree species
4.3 Naturalness
4.4 Introduced tree species
Yes
Definition and guidelines for closer-to-nature-forestry practices, and voluntary
closer-to-nature forest management certification scheme, Whole set Partial
Guidance and knowledge exchanges on good practices on climate adaptation and
resilience
1.4 Forest carbon
2.4 Forest damage Partial
Revise legislation on forest reproductive material with measures to promote the
production and marketing of forest reproductive material suitable for future climatic
conditions
None No
Forest-related interventions in the future CAP, in particular the set-up of ecosystem
services payment schemes and roll-out of carbon farming practices 3.4 Services Partial
Advice and technical guidance on the development of ecosystem service payment
scheme 3.4 Services6.3 Net revenue Partial
Forest-related remuneration schemes in an action plan for both carbon farming and
carbon removal certification 1.4 Forest carbon Partial
Study regarding the uptake of public funds by foresters None No
Identify and address possible hurdles posed by current EU legislation and the State
Aid Guidelines to grant adequate public support to services beneficial for the public
interest
None No
Forests 2022,13, 245 13 of 20
Table 3. Cont.
Headings of Substantive Sections and Sub- Sections and Related
Commitments by the European Commission (Those, Which Are Included
in the Text Boxes in the Strategy, Abbreviated for Easier Comprehension.)
Relevant Pan-European Indicators
Are the Pan-European
Indicators Appropriate
to Monitor Progress?
4. Strategic forest monitoring, reporting and data collection
Proposal on EU Forest Observation, Reporting and Data Collection to ensure a
coordinated EU forest monitoring, data collection and reporting system . . . Whole set Partial
Strategic Plans for forests and the forest-based sector, in Member States National Forest programmes or
equivalent (Qualitative indicator 1) Partial
Strengthen the existing monitoring of climate effects and other natural or
human-induced disturbances on forests 2.4 Forest damage Yes
Prepare and publish regular reports and lay summaries on the forests in the EU. Whole set
Yes (Forest Europe
already does this, notably
by its studies on the state
of Europe’s forests)
European forest science partnership, with a view to support the development
of new indicators based on remote sensing and the latest research results Whole set
Yes (New indicators »
should be integrated in
existing frameworks,
notably that of Forest
Europe)
5. A strong research and innovation agenda to improve our knowledge on forests
“Planning our Future Forests” research and innovation agenda to identifying
research gaps and future priorities None No
Evidence-based design and implementation of forest restoration strategies 2.5 Forest land degradation Partial
Research and Innovation partnership on forestry, including flagships for
testing and demonstrating solutions on selected key strategic domains None No
Complementary actions in support of Disaster Risk Reduction policies
(including forest fires) None No
Citizens’ science Programme for forest biodiversity All indicators under Criterion 4 Partial
3.3.1. Pan-European Indicators Which Can Contribute to Monitoring Progress of
Identified Objectives
We identified 63 different objectives (for commitments, see the next section and
Table 3
)
in Sections 2 to 5 of the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 (Table 2). For five different ob-
jectives, we identified links to four different indicators (1.1 Forest area, 2.2 Soil condition,
4.9 Protected
forest areas, and 6.4 Investment in forest and forestry) that are appropriate
to monitoring progress of the objective. For 34 different objectives we identified links
to 19 different quantitative indicators (1.1 Forest area, 1.4 Forest carbon, 2.1 Deposition
and concentration of air pollutants, 2.2 Soil condition, 2.4 Forest damage, 3.2 Roundwood,
3.3 Non-wood
goods, all forest biological diversity indicators 4.1–4.10, 6.7 Wood construc-
tion, and 6.9 Wood energy) and qualitative indicators under C.3 and C.6 that are appropriate
in part for monitoring the progress of the objective. Of the linked indicators that are suit-
able in part to monitor the progress, 6.9 Wood energy, 4.3 Naturalness, 2.4 Forest damage,
3.2 Roundwood, and 4.9 Protected forest were the most identified. For 24 objectives, no
relevant links to indicators could be identified. For Section 6 and Section 7 of the New EU
Forest Strategy for 2030, no relevant objectives were identified, and therefore no links to
indicators could be identified.
3.3.2. Relevant Pan-European Indicators Which Can Contribute to Monitoring Progress of
Identified Commitments
We identified 29 different commitments in Sections 2 to 5 of the New EU Forest Strategy
for 2030. These are additional to the “objectives” identified above, and overlap with them
to a certain extent. However, in the Strategy, they are clearly identified as commitments by
the European Commission to specific actions and presented in separate text boxes (Table 3).
For two different commitments, we identified two different linked indicators (2.4 Forest
Forests 2022,13, 245 14 of 20
damage and 4.1 Diversity of tree species) that are appropriate for monitoring progress. In
addition, we identified three commitments to which the whole pan-European indicator set
could be linked. For 16 different commitments we linked 16 different quantitative indicators
(1.4 Forest carbon, 2.5 Forest degradation, 3.3 Non-wood goods, 3.4 Services, all forest
biological diversity indicators 4.1–4.10, 6.5 Forest sector workforce and 6.10 Recreation in
forests) and the qualitative indicator C1 National Forest programmes or equivalent that are
partial appropriate to monitoring progress of the objective. Of the linked indicators that
are suitable in part to monitor the progress, 1.4 Forest carbon was the most identified. For
eight commitments, no relevant indicators could be linked.
3.4. Which of the Pan-European Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management Have no
Corresponding Elements in the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030?
Our analyses revealed that several indicators are not linked to the New EU Forest
Strategy for 2030, (see Tables 2and 3, Figure 1). However, these indicators may still be of
interest, even though it has not been possible to establish direct links between them and the
objectives and commitments in the Strategy. The elements identified could be addressed
indirectly; for instance, growing stock as a measure of carbon storage.
Alternatively, cases where no link was found for the indicators might arise for two
reasons: (1) they are no longer a source of concern, or, more likely, (2) they are outside the
scope of the EU Forest Strategy, which, as mentioned before, is not a comprehensive policy
for sustainable forest management. This concerns especially indicators 2.1 Deposition
and concentration of air pollutants and 2.3 Defoliation, and some indicators under Crite-
rion 6, such as 6.6 Occupational safety and health, which is addressed under a different
(i.e., non-forest) part of the EU regulatory system.
4. Discussion
We carried out a detailed line-by-line comparison of the pan European set of indicators for
sustainable forest management, first formulated in the 1990s, but revised twice since then [
12
],
with the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030, presented by the European Commission in 2021 [1].
The former represents the consensus view of what constitutes sustainable forest management [
14
,
15
,
33
]. The Strategy is a formal, high-level international statement of policy objectives and
commitments, even though it does not represent a consensus view, and does not claim to
address all dimensions of sustainable forest management. In particular, the European Council,
in its response to the Strategy, “regretted” that the Strategy “was not developed together with
the Member States and stakeholders” [
17
]. Thus, the Strategy represents a recent high-level
contribution to an ongoing discussion of sustainable forest management, which has not yet
reached a consensus position. We considered, however, in view of the significance of the
discussion, that it would not be appropriate to await the emergence of a consensus view, and
then carry out a post factum analysis. The incomplete nature of the ongoing policy discussion
of what constitutes sustainable forest management should be borne in mind when evaluating
the results of our analysis.
Despite the differences between the two documents, we consider that the comparison
we have carried out does make it possible to identify a few significant differences between
the comprehensive vision of sustainable forest management formulated in the indicator set
and latest high level EU policy statement on forests, and to draw conclusions about future
needs as regards the concept of sustainable forest management, and how to monitor it.
Four issues receive much more attention in the Strategy than in the indicator set. These are:
1.
Climate change mitigation (carbon sequestration and storage in forest and harvested
wood products, substitution of fossil-intensive materials) and adaptation, including
resilience to extreme events related to climate change. Of the 63 objectives and com-
mitments identified (Table 2), 44 are justified, directly or indirectly, as a contribution
to climate change mitigation or adaptation, notably in Subsections 2.1, 2.2, 3.2–3.4 of
the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030. In the indicator set only one indicator out of
34 addresses carbon stocks and flows (1.4 Forest carbon). This development is not
Forests 2022,13, 245 15 of 20
surprising as understanding of the issues, especially of the physical science basis of
climate change [34] was much weaker in the 1990s than it is now.
2.
The downstream uses of wood, especially long-lived wood products, under the heading of
“Bioeconomy”, mostly seen in the Strategy as a contribution to climate change mitigation,
but also as a source of green jobs and revenue. Twelve objectives and commitments,
notably all of Section 2.1 of the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030, address this issue, while
the pan-European set only contains references to “wood consumption” (6.7) and “net
revenue” (6.3), seen only as forestry enterprises, not including downstream processing.
The policy interest in long-lived wood products is due essentially to the growing realisation
of the potential contribution to climate change mitigation of substituting wood products
for carbon-intensive materials, especially in construction.
3.
Biodiversity concerns were already prominent in the 1990s, which is shown by the
fact that 10 indicators were formulated for Criterion 4 on forest biological diversity.
However, ambitions have risen, also as a consequence of the Aichi Targets [
35
],
with regard to the share of protected land and to biodiversity on all types of forest
(
i.e., not
only those which are protected for biodiversity conservation) and the focus
on protecting “all Europe’s remaining primary and old growth forests”.
4.
Energy from wood, whose importance was beginning to be recognised in the 1990s
(6.9 Wood energy). At present, the focus of the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030,
notably in Section 2.2, is on ensuring that the wood used for energy comes only from
sustainable sources
The increased attention paid to climate change, the bioeconomy, biodiversity, and bioenergy
reflects the intense policy debates which have taken place in recent years, and the realisation of
the potential both for positive and negative developments in these areas [3638].
As regards monitoring of progress towards the Strategy’s objectives, in the context of
sustainable forest management, 5 (8%) of the 63 objectives and commitments could be fully
monitored by the existing pan-European indicators, and 34 (54%) partially (see Tables 2and 3).
It should be said, however, that some of the “partial” linkages are quite weak, and considerable
effort would be required before they could make a significant “fit for purpose” contribution to
monitoring progress towards the objectives and commitments. Thus, about two thirds of the
objectives and commitments could be monitored at least in part by existing indicators, whereas
new indicators or approaches would have to be developed for the remaining third.
Conversely, it is of interest to examine which of the topics considered, in the Forest
Europe context, essential for monitoring sustainable forest management do not appear
among the objectives and commitments of the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030. The
content analysis presented in Figure 2identifies six pan-European indicators for which
we did not identify links between the indicators and the Strategy: Growing stock (1.2),
Increment and fellings (3.1), Forest holdings (6.1), Contribution of forest sector to GDP
(6.2), Occupational safety and health (6.6) and Trade in wood (6.8). These indicators may
be still of interest, even though it has not been possible to establish direct links between
them and the objectives and commitments in the Strategy. The elements identified could be
addressed indirectly; for instance, “increment and fellings” can be used to monitor carbon
stock changes. Alternatively, the issues might be considered no longer a source of concern,
and therefore not deserving high level policy interest, or they may simply be outside the
scope of the EU Strategy.
The Strategy draws attention to a supposed shortcoming in the indicator set when
it states that “the sustainable forest management framework will have to be enhanced,
notably as regards criteria relating to ecosystem health, biodiversity and climate change” [
1
].
This raises the question of whether, in the light of changing circumstances and priorities, as
demonstrated above, the “sustainable forest management framework”, which has so far
been provided, for Europe, by the pan-European indicator set, needs adjustment to meet the
needs of policy makers, forest owners and managers, researchers and other stakeholders
in the 2020s. In addition, if this is the case, should the pan-European set of indicators be
modified, or should another approach be developed?
Forests 2022,13, 245 16 of 20
The Strategy also raises, but does not answer, questions about the nature of a desir-
able “framework” for sustainable forest management, when it refers to “enhancing” the
framework “so that it can become a more detailed screening tool to determine and com-
pare different management approaches, their impact and the overall state of EU forests”.
“Therefore, building on the Forest Europe sustainable forest management criteria, the
Commission, together with the Member States and in close cooperation with different
forest stakeholders, will identify additional indicators as well as thresholds or ranges for
sustainable forest management concerning forest ecosystem conditions, such as health,
biodiversity and climate objectives” [1].
This proposal appears to combine several different approaches to the sustainable forest
management framework, which might be summarised as:
1.
Identifying and monitoring trends for the main elements of sustainable forest man-
agement, without any assessment of sustainability;
2.
Using “thresholds and ranges” to determine whether forest management practice, at
national or local level, is in fact sustainable;
3.
“Screening” forest management practices to identify which are sustainable and which
not, in the varying circumstances of European forests.
In this context, it is worth noting that the approach adopted by Forest Europe has
been confined to monitoring trends. The pan-European set identifies indicators which
can be used—as a set—to monitor sustainable forest management (bullet 1), but contains
no process whereby it can be determined whether any country’s forest management is
sustainable or not (bullet 2). Successive studies of the State of Europe’s forests [
20
22
,
39
],
as well as the SEMAFOR pilot project [
40
], have attempted to address this challenge,
with the active participation of national correspondents, but, in the absence of agreed
thresholds and methodologies, results so far have been limited [
41
,
42
]. In the past, Forest
Europe has addressed, to a limited extent, and separately from the pan-European indicator
set, the concerns of bullet 3: the Pan-European Operational Level Guidelines, issued
in 1998 [
43
], do provide some very broad guidance, without, however, listing specific
management practices. Since then, Forest Europe has also prepared guidelines on a few
topics (afforestation and reforestation, green jobs, assessment of protected and protective
forest), but, in general, recommending or forbidding specific practices has been considered,
in the Forest Europe context, as a matter either for national regulation or for voluntary
market led certification. Forest Europe, in its work programme, also foresees a report on
revisiting the role of sustainable forest management and its tools in the context of current
challenges and other forest-related concepts [44].
In contrast, the Strategy does not systematically monitor trends in the elements of
sustainable forest management (bullet 1)—a function carried out by the State of Europe’s
Forests 2020 [
39
], published at about the same time as the Strategy. The Strategy does,
however, set in motion a process to address bullets 2 and 3. As regards bullet 2, it proposes a
process to agree on “thresholds or ranges for sustainable forest management concerning for-
est ecosystem conditions”. A major difference between the Strategy and the pan-European
indicator set concerns bullet 3: the Strategy, especially in Section 3.2, identifies several
“forest management practices” which it considers “essential” to “support biodiversity and
resilience” and others which are “to be approached with caution”. The former group
includes, among other things, maintenance of mixed species forests, uneven-aged and
continuous cover forestry, deadwood, regulation of wildlife densities, integrated fire man-
agement practices etc. The latter group includes clear-cutting (which should be used “only
in well-justified cases”), removing stumps and roots (which is “to be avoided”), and logging
during the bird-nesting period (in conformity with the Birds Directive [
45
]). This represents
a fundamentally different approach to achieving sustainable forest management from the
pan-European indicator set, which is natural in view of the fundamental differences in the
nature of the two documents. The latter aims to monitor the outcomes, rather than the
methods by which these outcomes are achieved, especially in view of the huge diversity of
forest management situations and ownerships in Europe.
Forests 2022,13, 245 17 of 20
A further difference in the approach of the pan-European indicator set and the Strategy
concerns the relative priority of the different dimensions of sustainable forest management.
In the pan-European set, all criteria and indicators are considered equal—or at least no
priority is assigned within the set, either between criteria or between indicators. Local
circumstances, whether biophysical, social, or economic, as well as national political and
societal preferences will of course affect the relative importance of certain aspects: for
instance, Criterion 5 on the protective functions of forests will have more importance in a
mountainous country than in a flat country. This recognises the fact that some trade-offs be-
tween the components of sustainable forest management are inevitable, and circumstances
and challenges change, so that no permanent or universal priority is assigned to any one
dimension of sustainable forest management at the expense of another. The Strategy, as
a policy instrument, itself neither comprehensive, nor a “framework”, does not explicitly
address this question. However, it does include some phrases which seem to imply a
hierarchy between the dimensions of sustainable forest management: “all forests should
be increasingly managed so that they are sufficiently biodiverse”, “certain management
practices that support biodiversity and resilience, are essential in this context”, “thresholds
or ranges for sustainable forest management concerning forest ecosystem conditions, such
as health, biodiversity and climate objectives” [
1
]. All these statements seem to imply that
a minimum level of biodiversity is considered necessary for all forests, without taking
trade-offs into account.
However, our analysis does not allow a statement as to whether or to what extent the
differences between the two documents are due to a societal change in attitudes to forests,
or to the different context and nature of the two documents.
5. Conclusions
The concept of sustainable management of trees and forests has been developing
since at least the first century AD, when Columella, in De arboribus [
46
], offered advice on
cultivating vines, olives and fruit trees. These concepts have been systematised and codified
since the eighteenth century, generally developing in accordance with societal needs and
changing economic, political, and social circumstances. We compared two key documents,
the pan-European set of criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management [
14
], and
the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 [
1
], in order to determine how well the pan-European
indicators might serve as a measuring and monitoring tool for the New EU Strategy 2030.
The underlying concept of sustainable forest management may have changed over
time, notably by changing the scope to include major emerging issues, and giving lower
priority to others.
In the 1990s, the impact of air pollution on forests was of particular concern, but
meanwhile, climate change and the loss of biodiversity have come to dominate discussions.
The threat to forests from changing temperature and climate regimes and the accumulation
of extreme events increasingly play a role, alongside adaptation and mitigation with respect
to future climate change. Furthermore, forests’ important role as a nature-based solution
for achieving climate neutrality is recognised. It is now acknowledged that through their
sink function for atmospheric CO
2
and the substitution effects of harvested wood products,
forests can make a significant contribution to climate neutrality. They are therefore an
indispensable part of the bioeconomy and the circular economy in the scope of climate
change mitigation. Moreover, as a near-natural landscape element, they are increasingly at
the centre of biodiversity conservation. These developments are reflected in the concerns
of the Strategy, which does not however propose a structured concept of sustainable forest
management as a whole.
Our research has demonstrated that the forest policy concerns reflected in the Strategy,
which are not by any means at present the subject of a general consensus, address several
issues which are not fully covered in the pan-European indicator set, which was intended to
monitor changes in sustainable forest management. Some of the pan-European indicators
are only weakly linked to the policy issues addressed in the Strategy. Furthermore, the
Forests 2022,13, 245 18 of 20
measures in the Strategy intended to improve sustainable forest management seem to
be more directive than the pan-European set of indicators. The former identifies certain
forest management practices as desirable or to be avoided, while the latter aims for com-
prehensive monitoring of all aspects of sustainable forest management. The Strategy is
also strongly determined by developments and legally binding EU policy instruments
for other sectors, notably biodiversity, climate change, renewable energy, bioeconomy,
and rural development. Therefore, to be fully informative to the new EU Forest Strategy,
the pan-European indicators and their ongoing implementation would have to undergo
fundamental changes.
The New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 is not itself a conceptual framework for sus-
tainable forest management but it puts into motion a process to develop a revised, more
ambitious framework than the pan-European set of indicators for sustainable forest manage-
ment, including “thresholds and ranges” to determine the limits of sustainability. To secure
a generally accepted understanding of sustainable forest management, a participatory
process involving all stakeholders concerned seems indispensable.
Supplementary Materials:
The tables of our detailed analysis are all available in the Supplemen-
tary Material which are available online at https://www.mdpi.com/article/10.3390/f13020245/s1.
Table S1: Updated pan-European Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management as proposed by the
FOREST EUROPE Advisory Group on the updating of the pan-European Indicators for Sustainable
Forest Management [
14
]. In this list we underlined the key words applied in the Atlas.ti search.
Table S2: Identified
objectives and commitments of the New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 and the rele-
vant pan-European indicators which can contribute to monitoring progress.
Table S3: Commitments
of the New EU Forest Strategy 2030 compared to the pan-European indicator framework.
Author Contributions:
Conceptualisation: M.L., M.K., K.T.K., S.L., K.P. and A.T.; Methodology: M.L.;
Data collection: M.L.; Data analysis; M.L.; Writing—original draft: M.L., M.K., K.T.K., S.L., K.P. and
A.T.; Writing—review & editing; M.L., M.K., K.T.K., S.L., K.P. and A.T. All authors have read and
agreed to the published version of the manuscript.
Funding: This research received no external funding.
Data Availability Statement: Not applicable.
Acknowledgments:
We thank the two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments, which
helped to significantly improve the quality of our paper.
Conflicts of Interest:
The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests
or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.
This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or
not-for-profit sectors. The Open Access and Article Processing Charge (APC) was kindly paid by the
Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke).
Abbreviations
EU European Union
EC European Commission
FAO Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
FE Forest Europe
FLEGT Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (action plan)
GDP Gross Domestic Product
JWEE Joint Wood Energy Enquiry
MCPFE Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe
SEMAFOR System for the Evaluation of the Management of Forests
SFM Sustainable Forest Management
SoEF State of Europe’s Forests (report)
UNECE United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
Forests 2022,13, 245 19 of 20
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