Accept Refuse

EUR-Lex Access to European Union law

This document is an excerpt from the EUR-Lex website

Summaries of EU Legislation

Forests and development: the EC approach

Go to the summaries’ table of contents

This summary has been archived and will not be updated, because the summarised document is no longer in force or does not reflect the current situation

Forests and development: the EC approach

The Commission defines the objectives of the European Union with regard to cooperation for forestry development, identifies areas where dialogue and assistance are required and sets out the action needed to realise those objectives, taking into account the experience gained in recent years.


Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 4 November 1999 on forests and development: the EC approach [COM(1999) 554 final - Not published in the Official Journal].


Forests and trees are vital assets for developing countries offering economic, social and environmental benefits for both local communities and national economies. They also provide environmental services such as preserving biodiversity and protecting agricultural land.

The international community has allocated considerable resources to the development of forestry in the last few decades. Efforts to preserve biodiversity have intensified and the areas being planted with forest have increased. In spite of these initiatives, the area of land covered with forest continues to decline in most countries.

Sustainable forest management (SFM) is the principal objective of forestry development. This concept covers the whole range of environmental, economic and social benefits of forests. Obstacles to the effective implementation of SFM in natural forests are the lack of criteria and indicators for SFM, applicable management systems and relevant experience.

Other important factors with a negative impact on the forestry sector are:

  • subsidies in adjacent sectors which indirectly encourage deforestation,
  • current concession and timber pricing policies which create strong incentives for unsustainable management,
  • the lack of adequate and transparent information on the state and use of forest resources.

The certification of forests and labelling of forest products from certified sources could be a useful marketing instrument, giving consumers an opportunity to contribute to sustainable forest management.

Alternatives to SFM, such as plantations, are being used increasingly often as a means of providing wood and fibres for domestic and international markets.

Environmental functions

Tropical forests contain half of all known plant and animal species and constitute ecosystems in which biological and abiotic (where life is absent or impossible) processes are closely linked. The international community has undertaken to preserve this biodiversity in the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Forests and trees prevent landslides, protect the soil against erosion and filter water. Forests also contribute to environmental stability at global level; by alternatively producing and absorbing CO2 they can both contribute to and mitigate climate change.

Economic functions

Forest services and products contribute around 2% of world GDP and 3% of international merchandise trade. The exploitation of forests provides a relatively high contribution to GDP in many developing countries, particularly in Africa (6%) and Latin America (3%).

These estimates do not include the non-quantifiable services provided by the forest such as carbon storage and biodiversity conservation, nor do they include the non-commercial use of wood and non-wood forest products by local populations.

The system of timber pricing and concession rights practised in developing countries undervalues timber and forests. The revenues received by the State, as the owner of the forest, are no more than 10 to 20% of the amounts achievable on the real market. A more realistic pricing system could increase revenues to the State and slow down the pace of deforestation.

The objective of marketing forest products is to achieve a balance between commerce and environmental policies in order to promote sustainable development.

Social aspects

The issue of forests concerns a large number of people. Political decision-makers, agricultural lobbies, local populations and industry all have interests linked directly or indirectly to the forestry sector. Forests are also of major cultural significance to the indigenous populations and vital for their very existence. It is essential, therefore, to consider social aspects in connection with action to promote forests.

Institutional aspects

Government services are responsible for implementing forestry policy. Institutional control and State influence in many developing countries has been declining in recent years, however.

The challenge facing administrations is to find a balance between the need to address forestry problems in many sectors (forestry, environment, agriculture, industry, finance, etc.) whilst retaining a coherent sectoral capacity.


The need for concerted action to protect forests on an international scale has long been recognised at different levels and in various ways.

At international level, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) adopted the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Agenda 21, and the so-called "Forest Principles". Two legally binding instruments were presented for signature at Rio: the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The Convention to Combat Desertification was adopted in 1994. Subsequently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) was established in 1995 under the auspices of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), and the Kyoto Protocol of the Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in 1997.

At European level, environmental issues were first presented in EC cooperation policy statements in the mid-1980s, when a chapter on drought and desertification was incorporated in the Lomé III Convention. The Commission then created a budget heading on the promotion of tropical forests for the period 1996-1999 and highlighted the problem of deforestation in the Lomé IV Convention. The Community also respects the commitments made at international level.

Objective of the Community strategy

The general objective of European Community cooperation for forestry development is "to maintain adequate forest cover and improve forest management in developing countries as a contribution to the local, regional and global environment and overall sustainable development".

The following objectives can therefore be identified for the forestry sector, to be achieved via EU aid programmes:

  • reducing uncontrolled deforestation and forest degradation,
  • increasing the areas under sustainable forest management,
  • increasing the revenue from forest products and making its distribution more equitable,
  • maintaining genetic resources and biodiversity,
  • developing research to improve forest-related knowledge.

Ways to achieve the objectives

Development cooperation actions fall into four different groups, taking account of needs at local, regional, national and international level:

  • developing and implementing a forestry policy framework, at national and international level, in order to maintain the multifunctional role of forests and reconcile the conflicting demands made of them,
  • improving the sustainability of interventions in forest conservation and use at field level and promoting farm forestry and other sustainable and socially equitable forms of land use which have a positive impact on forests,
  • improving the efficiency of utilising and processing wood and non-wood forest products through equitable and global approaches, allying economic development and the interests of indigenous populations,
  • contributing to the development of research, information, capacity building and technology transfers in relation to the above.

The Commission will ensure the coordination, the coherence and the complementarity of this strategy with EU aid programmes and also carry out follow-up work.

The above interventions will contribute to a global objective of enabling individuals and communities dealing with forests and forestry, and society at large, to benefit in an equitable way from forest-related products and services produced on a socially, economically and environmentally sound basis.


Communication from the Commission of 21 May 2003 entitled: "Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT): Proposal for an EU Action Plan" [COM(2003) 251 final - Not published in the Official Journal]. The Commission defines a process and a package of measures to address the problem of illegal logging and related trade which is becoming of increasing concern. The principal objective is to improve governance in timber-producing countries, and set up voluntary partnerships with them so that only legally harvested timber enters the EU.

United Nations Forum on Forestry (UNFF) - first substantive session in June 2001 - Council conclusions [Official Journal C 164, 7.6.2001].

Commission Communication of 27 March 2001 to the Council and the European Parliament: Biodiversity Action Plan for Economic and Development Cooperation (volume V) [COM(2001) 162 final - Not published in the Official Journal]. The Commission studies how to reverse the loss of biodiversity and environmental resources in developing countries while reducing poverty.

Regulation (EC) No 2494/2000 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 November 2000 on measures to promote the conservation and sustainable management of tropical forests and other forests in developing countries [Official Journal L 288, 15.11.2000].

The European Union provides financial assistance to activities which aim to promote the conservation and sustainable management of forests in developing countries, so as to meet the economic, social and environmental demands placed on forests.

Last updated: 29.06.2007