The need for the European economy to be more innovative, productive and competitive whilst using fewer resources and reducing its environmental impact has been widely addressed (EC 2014 a).
It is evident that Europe’s forest sector, as part of the European green infrastructure (EC 2014 b), can play an important role here and can contribute to tackling significant future social, ecological and economic challenges, such as unemployment, climate change and globalization (WHO 2012). Yet, these challenges will also increase the demands on forests, which besides wood and energy production, include carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, water protection, landscape management, soil and nutrient regulation, tourism and recreation. Moreover, the competition for land use between traditional agriculture, biomass production, and forestry is expected to increase in the future. (EC 2014 c)
These demands and competition have resulted and will result in new forest-related policies at different political levels and across different sectors (e.g. EU Renewable Energy Directive, EU Biodiversity Strategy 2020, EU Birds and Habitats Directives/Natura2000, CAP post 2013 – Rural Development Policy, FLEGT/EU Timber Regulation, EU Water Framework Directive, EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change, EU Bioeconomy Strategy, EU Common Fisheries Policy, Europe 2020 Resource-efficient Europe Flagship) (Standing Forestry Committee 2012, Winkel et al. 2013). These policies demand relevant, harmonised, comprehensive and reliable data in order to achieve balanced and optimal decision-making in forest related policies.
In addition, reporting obligations related to EU forest-related policies and international agreements (e.g. Millennium Development Goals on preventing deforestation and activities under the Kyoto Protocol (the Land Use Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)) call for comparable data and information on Europe’s forest ecosystems (Standing Forestry Committee 2012). Consequently, the recent Forest Strategy (EC 2013) provides clear signals towards the need for harmonised information for mapping and assessing the state of forest ecosystems and their services. It also asks to align EU forest information so that it:
- is primarily based on data collected by Member States with EU data architecture requirements such as INSPIRE (Infrastructure for spatial information in Europe), SEIS (Shared environmental information system) and Copernicus; and
- follows international and regional reporting processes. Forest inventories and other ecosystem monitoring activities of EU Member States are reliable sources of forest related information.
Nevertheless due to the increasing demands by the forest and other related sectors there is a clear need to make data collection and analysis more efficient and harmonised, enhance interoperability, provide information for the main parameters on complete coverage maps and to provide the information up-to-date. Better knowledge on forest resources, their availability and their sustainable future supply can help to predict developments of forest ecosystem goods and services and thus can serve a broad range of affected stakeholders and create new opportunities for an innovative, sustainable and inclusive bioeconomy in Europe.