Monitoring future forests

21 December 2023

Forests play a key role in mitigating climate change, protecting and restoring biodiversity, securing the provisioning of many ecosystem services and developing the bioeconomy. Numerous forest-related policies have recently been developed under the Green Deal. To ensure that the objectives and targets of these policies are met, it is crucial to have precise, complete and up-to-date information on European forests. A proposal for a new forest monitoring regulation has recently been presented by the European Commission.

On 12 December, the ThinkForest forum of the European Forest Institute (EFI) organised an event in Brussels (programme and speakers) that tried to answer questions on the aims and objectives of the new forest monitoring regulation and how the proposed regulation serves the needs of EU policies. The event was organised in collaboration with the Horizon Europe projects ForestNavigator, PathFinder and ForestPaths.

ForestPaths contributes to the proposed forest monitoring regulation by developing next generation maps on forest disturbance, tree species composition and forest structure. In addition, the project analyses wood flows that provide information on production and trade of wood products, and develops simulation models to support integrated long-term planning.

During the event, Humberto Delgado Rosa (Director Biodiversity at DG ENV) introduced the proposed regulation on forest monitoring. He explained how the regulation aims to meet the need for coherent, timely and high-quality information on forests which can feed into policymaking. The legislative proposal includes a forest data collection framework that relies on both earth observation data, for example from satellites, and ground-based data, for example coming from national forest inventories. Moreover, the regulation proposes a forest data-sharing framework, and the voluntary development of integrated long-term plans or strategies by member states.

A lively scientific panel discussion, moderated by ForestPaths' coordinator Hans Verkerk, explored some of the challenges of forest monitoring. Lucia Perugini, who is an expert on Carbon Farming Certification and LULUCF at the European Environment Agency, talked about how the proposed regulation can support data analysis needed for climate change mitigation policies. Johannes Breidenbach, a Research Professor at the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research and coordinator of the PathFinder project, explained the challenges with regard to monitoring forest biodiversity, and multifunctionality more broadly. Martin Herold, who is head of the Remote Sensing and Geoinformatics section at GFZ Potsdam and involved in the ForestNavigator and Forwards projects, explained how earth observation and ground-based inventory data can be used together and what monitoring initiatives exist outside Europe. Finally, Susana Barreiro, Assistant Professor at the School of Agriculture at the University of Lisbon, discussed how simulation modelling can help identify what should be monitored. She also explained how simulation models can help in developing integrated long-term plans and strategies. 

Overall, the panellists welcomed the proposed regulation as beneficial for delivering harmonised and standardised data and they emphasised the complementarity of earth observation data and forest inventory data. A constructive dialogue with the audience highlighted the importance of forest monitoring for enabling well-informed decision-making – and the importance of opportunities like ThinkForest for discussion and collaboration, informed by the latest developments in research.