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 Can you help us save the trees? EU asks citizens for ‘solutions’ to deforestation

As the world continues turning into a new calendar year, many people may be reflecting on what actions they can personally take for a healthier year ahead, both on a personal and an environmental level. The European Commission seems to have made ending deforestation one of their new year’s resolutions, with a newly-published report aimed at ‘stepping up EU action against deforestation and forest degradation’ (1). This can be seen as positive news for forests around the world, since European Union (EU) trade involves products which come from deforested areas worldwide.

What’s more, the Commission has opened up the plan to discussion to all EU citizens, who have until January 15thto add their own opinions to what the solutions to the problems of deforestation could be.

This article explores the EU’s current impact on deforestation and reforestation, the main points of the report and some ideas for possible contributions.

European forests

Forest cover in Europe has been decreasing due to human activity for hundreds or possibly thousands of years, with many countries now having less than 50% of total woodland area (2), and a few places, notably the British Isles and parts of Italy, with less than 2% total woodland area (2).

Reforestation projects have been in place throughout Europe for almost 200 years, showing that people have recognised the need for trees for this length of time. However, the effects on the local ecosystem have not always been considered. The areas which have been reforested were previously home to mixed-species broadleaf forests. Most reforestation projects since around 1850 have been using commercially viable or fast-growing tree species, most notably Scots Pine (Pinus Sylvestris), Norway Spruce (Picea Abies) and Beech (Fagus spp) (3), thus creating mono-species and/or coniferous forests, which are less conducive to thriving ecosystems.

A report (3) published in 2016 in the journal Science found that roughly 400,000 square miles of broadleaf forest has been replaced by conifers since 1850. As well as the fact that forests with less types of tree species can generally support less life, the report found that since the coniferous trees have darker and shinier leaves which do not fall, they absorb more heat throughout more of the year and so generally could be contributing to a rise in air temperature in those places, in particular when compared to the primary broadleaf forests (3).

Tropical deforestation

 Though many EU countries currently have little or no primary forest cover, the report from the European Commission is not aimed at reforestation of Europe. Rather, it states that

“The EU is indeed among the major global importers of a number of specific commodities associated with deforestation, i.e. palm oil (25% of global imports), soy (15%), rubber (25%), beef (41%), maize (30%), cocoa (80%), and coffee (60%)” (1).

Coconut Plantation. Photo by Josh Withers on Unsplash

So its main purpose is to “step up EU action against tropical deforestation and forest degradation by developing a more coherent and comprehensive approach to the problem.” (1). To do this, the Commission has created a ‘roadmap’ of possible solutions, which is open for public consultation for anyone to contribute to for 4 weeks from publication. The roadmap’s authors will then use the contributions to “outline policy options” (4) for possible implementation of legislation by the European Parliament.

Agriculture and deforestation

As many readers are probably aware, one of the main causes of deforestation is agricultural expansion. How can we realistically expect to re-plant the world’s forests if we continue relying on a food system based on industrial monoculture farming? It seems imperative that this link be recognised if the roadmap is to be successful at all. The report does mention the “increasing awareness of the link between deforestation and agricultural expansion.” (1)

Forest degradation is recognised as being “related to the unsustainable extraction of forest products, such as timber, fuelwood, charcoal, (illegal) grazing…” (1); though the report does not specify the meaning of “unsustainable” or why it is only ‘illegal’ grazing which contributes to degradation.

The report in general is aimed at creating a ‘roadmap’ plan to help to reforest Europe or those parts of the world which provide significant amounts of commodities to Europe. Reasons given in the report about why stopping deforestation is important include; in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve soil condition and re-balance the water cycle. So, it is telling that when describing deforestation it states:

“[forest degradation] reduces the capacity of the forest to provide essential goods and services.” (1)

This persistence of commodifying language – seeing a forest not as a living being but as a provider of ‘goods and services’ – even in a report supposedly aimed at helping the environment, could be an indication that the kind of ‘solutions’ the Commission is looking for must be financially as well as environmentally viable. This is not necessarily a negative thing; it is just something to note, that if you are dealing with someone whose goals are ultimately economic, in order to make an attractive offer you maybe need to use similar language.

Perhaps as a counterbalance to this, the report also states,

“The EU, as a major importer of agricultural commodities, is part of the problem but can also be part of the solution” (1); showing the distinct possibility that the report’s authors can sympathise with permaculture perspectives and so at least be open to implementing holistic solutions.

In search of solutions

When we consider such seemingly well-meaning but perhaps ultimately detrimental actions as reforestation in Europe, and the global agricultural systems in place at the moment, it can be seen that policy makers perhaps could do with a helping hand when it comes to dealing with forests. They do not often recognise this need, which is why the call for contributions to the EU Commission’s paper could be seen as a significant step in the direction of citizen participation in continent- or world-wide environmental care. I could not find any description in the roadmap process of how they use citizen’s contributions, but with the feedback section still open until the 15thof January, if you are an EU citizen who cares about forests you may wish to contribute your own thoughts.

Of course, in the meantime we can continue to make our own solutions, in our own personal and community lives.


  1. European Commission, 2018. ‘Road Map Ares: Communication on stepping up EU Action against Deforestation and Forest Degradation’. Available as a PDF and for Feedback (until 15thJanuary) here:
  2. Jakub Marian, 2018. ‘Percentage of Total Area Covered by Woodland – data from Eurostat, 2015’.
  3. Naudts, K, et al, 2016. ‘Europe’s forest management did not mitigate climate warming’. Science 05/02/16,  Vol. 351, Issue 6273, pp. 597-600.
  4. European Commission, 2018. ‘Law Making Process, Planning and Proposing Law: How their Scope is defined’.


Feature Photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash

Charlotte Ashwanden

Charlotte Ashwanden (nee Haworth). Born in London, I am very interested in peace and community and have a degree in Peace Studies. I got my Permaculture Design Certificate in 2011, from Treeyo at Permaship in Bulgaria, and my Permaculture Teaching Certificate in 2018 at Aranya in India. For me, permaculture is about so much more than garden design; I am mainly interested in applying ‘human permaculture’ as a complement to peace practices. In particular, I like to look at how human permaculture can be applied through psychology, communication and education techniques. In 2015 I got married in a pagan ceremony in a field to David Ashwanden and changed my surname to Ashwanden. With my husband, I’ve travelled a lot in Europe and Asia and encountered many permaculture and community projects. I have lived in various situations, from squatted land to intentional communities, as well as more ‘normal’ places, in the UK, Spain, Italy, Thailand and Vietnam. A professional dancer, I do fire and hula dance and sometimes run dance meditation workshops. Currently, I live in the Andalucian mountains.


  1. The best way to encourage non Deforestation is to make it economic. Governments worldwide, be they European or in my case Canadian, have come up with a tax grab called carbon credits. It’s no different than decades ago with dumping fines. Dump whatever you want wherever you want as long as you pay the tax. I personally own large areas of managed trees that cover the CO2 footprints off hundreds of people and I will never see any benefit from this so called CO2 strategy. In fact the opposite is true, this tax grab is increasing my burden of carrying the forested properties to the point of forcing me to clear cut to pay the so called “world saving” tax increase. If revenues instead went to, or some tax benefit allocated towards preserving our only true and last hope for climate preservation! It’s that simple.

    1. Preventing further deforestation is important, of course, but since I learned about potential problems of reforestation, I’ve been thinking a lot about houseplants. Soil itself will act to draw down carbon. What effect could a houseplant in every room have on climate change? A plant on every desk in every office building, too. Maybe that can be our next campaign?

  2. Boy that’s hard question to answer! Let me rack my brain. How about planting a few billion trees to replace the ones that have been cut down? According to the World Economic Forum Pakistan has planted over a billion trees. Imagine how many can be planted in much larger nations. Maybe the world organizations like the UN (that’s a joke) can try to make it illegal, for nations like, lets say the UK, to go around cutting down the few large trees it still has to be able to, let say, bring 5G whatever, in spite of property owners complaining..Here in the US, it could be made illegal for communities to prohibit the growing of any thing not lawns. My town made a mistake 14 years ago by allowing me to turn my 1/3 yard into a certifies wild life habitat/food forest. Sent me a letter this year threatening to cut it all down. Oops, one of the people in city hall then, is in city hall now and she verified I had permission. When I say “forest” I really mean it. Not just trees with thousands of native plants, all kinds of fruits and tons of wild life that other people in town say have disappeared, such as bees, butterflies, dragonflies, etc. I have to tell them, “they move to my yard”. As if they eat lawn. By the way, bumper crop this year, thanks rain.

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