8 April 2021

European forests are expanding. But their future is unwritten


Continental forest area has increased by 9% in the last three decades. But not all issues have been fixed. Climate change and growing demand for sustainable solutions put forests under pressure

by Matteo Cavallito


Figures are clearly promising, but challenges are still ahead: the future for European forests is not yet written. And both regulators and stakeholders seem to be aware of this. The closest deadline is April 19th.. On this date, the European Commission will close the public consultation that was launched on January 25 following a similar initiative on Soil Strategy. According to the promoters “The purpose of this consultation is to gather views from citizens and stakeholders, which the Commission will then feed into the preparation of the future forest strategy.”

The plan “will also be aimed at ensuring healthy and resilient forests that contribute significantly to biodiversity and climate goals, reduce and control natural disasters, secure livelihoods and support a circular bioeconomy and rural communities.”

European forests: +9% in three decades

The data released at the end of last year by Forest Europe, the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests, in any case, are encouraging. In the last 30 years, the European forest area has increased by 9%. Today, European forests cover 227 million hectares, covering more than a third of the surface area of the Continent. The conditions for achieving the goals are certainly in place. Anccording to the researchers, “If managed sustainably, forests play an indispensable role in climate and biodiversity protection. In addition to providing “ecosystem services, thus also contributing to climate neutrality,” forest areas “protect soils and water resources.”At the same time, they protect soils and water resources. “And they “ensure livelihoods by contributing to the well-being of rural and urban communities.”

Climate and biodiversity are grateful

The numbers are still a comfort. According to Forest Europe, in fact, in the last three decades “volume of wood and the weight of carbon stored in the biomass of European forests have grown by 50%.”  Moreover, since the beginning of the century, “the area of forests designated for biodiversity conservation has increased by 65%, and the area designated for landscape conservation by 8%. Forests designated for the protection of soil, water, and other ecosystem services represent about 32% of the forest area.”


Problems remain

However, the overall picture is not shadow free. Recently, the report says, “a growing frequency of large-scale forest disturbances has been observed recently, including extreme droughts, heat waves, extensive bark beetle outbreaks, and more extensive forest fires.” Although pollution has declined over the past 25 years, “some pollutants still locally exceed critical loads.” Finally, researchers are concerned about foliage loss of trees (+19% in the period 2010-2018″. While “the relatively low net revenue of forest enterprises poses a risk for forest management.”

Searching for a balance

The report is not intended to provide policy recommendations. However, the picture depicted by the researchers sends a clear message. Climate change and the growing demand for sustainable solutions are expected to put increasing pressure on forests. “Europe has been in a state of balance between the components of sustainable forest management for many decades” according to the report. “The new pressures and challenges may, however, lead to changes in this equilibrium.” That’s why “transition from one state of balance to another would necessitate holistic and evidence-based decisions, to ensure that all aspects of sustainability are fully considered.”