26 July 2018

IIASA researchers help EU states to assess forestry’s role in achieving climate commitments

IIASA researchers have led the development of new guidance for EU member states estimating greenhouse gas emissions and removals from their forests and developing plans to show how they will account for these emissions and removals in the future.

© dugdax | Shutterstock

© dugdax | Shutterstock

The document, written by a team led by IIASA researcher Nicklas Forsell, provides the first technical and science-based guidelines to assist EU member states in calculating their baseline projection of forestry greenhouse gas emissions and removals for the period 2021-2030, known as the country-specific Forest Reference Level (FRL), and reporting their National Forestry Accounting Plans (NFAPs). 

The NFAP shows how each member state will account for greenhouse gas emissions and removals from its forest land, and a major part of the NFAP is the FRL. The FRL, expressed in metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year, will be used as a baseline to which future emissions and removals from the country’s forests will be compared during 2021 to 2030, the compliance period. The net emissions from forests can be reduced through more climate-friendly management practices such as changes in tree felling or additional planting.  

The development and reporting of the member state’s FRL and NFAP is a new procedure set in place so that mitigation efforts from forestry can contribute to the EU’s 2030 target to reduce emissions by at least 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. In May this year, EU member states jointly agreed on the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions and removals from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) within EU’s 2030 climate targets. The inclusion of the LULUCF sector into this target is fully in line with the Paris Agreement, demonstrating the critical role of the sector in reaching these climate objectives.   

The new estimation procedures are based on a country’s historical forest management practices, with credits and debits allowing for transparent inclusion of management policies such as conserving existing forests and carbon sinks, increased generation of bioenergy from wood and the increased consumption of wood-based products to replace carbon-intensive ones. The FRL therefore gives credits to member states seeking to achieve climate targets through more climate-friendly use of their forests. The guidelines include a variety of different, practical estimation and reporting methods to allow for different member states’ circumstances, and provide a crucial step in the political process by providing a scientific basis for carrying out and performing the calculations as required by the LULUCF regulations. 

“This is an essential piece of information for countries to be able to do the calculations and transparently document the estimates that need to be submitted to the Commission by the end of the year. As these numbers need to be publicly vetted and available, it is important that they get guidance about how to do the calculations,” says Forsell. 

During the preparation of the guidance document in spring 2018, the authors participated in a total of six workshops organized by the member states and the European Commission, to discuss the requirements of the new regulation. 

“These workshops were invaluable for the preparation of the guidance document. We clarified many issues with the member states in advance, and received useful feedback on suggestions that we were planning to include in the guidance document,” says Anu Korosuo, a IIASA researcher and coauthor of the document. “The workshops were well attended by representatives of policy and research institutions in the countries, and served as an excellent example of collaboration between scientists and policymakers.”   

In addition to member states and the researchers calculating FRLs, the researchers say the document will be useful for NGOs and forestry professionals in general, allowing them to know how the calculations are done and to better interact with policymakers. 

“All countries and NGOs can now take part in the process and contribute to national discussion about what the contribution from forests should be to national mitigation targets,” says Forsell. 

ICF Consulting, based in the UK, led the consortium that produced the guidance document, which, as well as IIASA, also included another UK consultancy firm, Aether.


Forsell N, Korosuo A, Federici S, Gusti M, Rincón Cristóbal JJ, Rüter S, Sánchez Jiménez B, Dore C, et al. Guidance on developing and reporting the Forest Reference Levels in accordance with Regulation (EU) 2018/841 [pure.iiasa.ac.at/id/eprint/15375/ 2018

Print this page

Last edited: 26 July 2018


Nicklas Forsell

Senior Research Scholar Integrated Biosphere Futures Research Group - Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program



International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria
Phone: (+43 2236) 807 0 Fax:(+43 2236) 71 313