Image credits: Peter Loefler

Key messages

  • Forests are complex ecosystems and are impacted by climate change whether it is changing temperature, precipitation, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, frequency of storms or forest fires. Climate change is changing not only the conditions for trees but also the rest of the ecosystem including pest and diseases which impacts forest health.
  • Forests hold an important role in our economy and society, creating jobs and providing food, medicines, materials, clean water and more. Forests host a rich biodiversity, and we depend on their ability to remove CO2 from the atmosphere in the fight against climate change. The provision of these functions and services are impacted, and in many cases, threated by climate change.
  • The EU has with the EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change, the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, the proposed EU Forest Strategy for 2030 and the proposed Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry regulation provided several policy frameworks to promote climate change resilient forests able to deliver the many ecosystem services requested by society.

Impacts and vulnerabilities

About 182 million hectares (43% of EU land) are covered by forests or other wooded land (see EU forestry explained). Forest also accounts for half of the Natura 2000 network of nature protection areas, covering 38 million hectares (more than 20% of the EU’s forest area).

The rapid rate of climate change may overcome the natural ability of forest ecosystems to adapt as the frequency and severity of climate and weather extremes are increasing, causing unprecedented events, such as forest fires in the Arctic Circle, severe droughts in the Mediterranean region, unprecedented bark beetle outbreaks in Central and Eastern Europe, with devastating effects for European forests. As a consequence, the economic viability of forests will be affected, as well as the capacity of forests to provide environmental services (e.g. clean water and air, food and fiber, CO2 removal, carbon stock, erosion control and provide habitat for forest biodiversity).


Policy framework

The new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate change proposes a coherent and holistic policy framework on European Forests. It aims to accelerate adaptation by developing solutions, moving from planning to implementing adaptation strategies and plans at all levels of governance, also increasing adaptation mainstreaming and a systemic approach for policy development. The new Strategy identifies three cross cutting priorities, which will affect the forestry sector: (1) integrate adaptation into macro-fiscal policy, (2) promote nature-based solutions for adaptation, including sustainable management of forests, with new financial incentives and certification of carbon removals, and (3) stimulate local adaptation actions to improve the science-based knowledge on climate risks, ecosystem restoration, and sustainable management for minimizing risks, improve resilience, and ensure the continued delivery of vital ecosystem services and features. Major emphasis will also be put to encourage collaborative, transnational production and transfer of high-quality plant reproductive material through active policies and actions to support adaptation in forestry and land ecosystem management.

As part of the European Green Deal, and the new EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030, the new proposed Forest Strategy includes measures for strengthening forest protection and restoration, enhancing sustainable forest management, and improving the monitoring and effective decentralised planning on forests in the EU, promotingtheir multifunctional role and contributing to adaptation requirements by increasing afforestation, forest preservation and restoration.

In addition, on July 2021, the LULUCF Regulation sets a binding commitment for emission reduction, for the period 2021-2030, for the first time in an EU law. The Regulation extends the accounting of emissions and removals from only forests today to all land uses (including wetlands by 2026). This will support foresters through greater visibility for the climate benefits of wood products, which can store carbon sequestered from the atmosphere and substitute for emission-intensive materials.


Improving the knowledge base

The recent evidence summarized by the IPCC AR6 WG II report Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability on Climate Change 2022 shows that the growing unsustainable land-use practices adversely affecting biodiversity and the ability of ecosystems to adapt to climate change. The projected climate change combined with unsustainable forest management practices will cause the loss and degradation of the world’s forests. Risks for biodiversity loss are moderate to high in forest ecosystems. Adaptation for forests include conservation, protection, restoration as well as sustainable forest management practices.

Strengthening the knowledge base is deemed essential to sustainably manage forests with the additional challenges posed by climate change. Recent IPCC Special reports (Climate change and land and the report on Global warming of 1.5 °C), indicate serious impacts for different forest types and assess options for sustainable land use and forest management. 

The Forest Information System for Europe (FISE) is the single entry point for data and information to support forest-related policies in Europe. It contains links, tools, and other resources relevant for improving the knowledge base on forests status and health, and for improving forests resilience, including adaptation to climate change in the forestry sector. The Adaptation in the forestry sector section of Climate-ADAPT provides an entry point into the most relevant knowledge, data, tools and guidance for implementing adaptation action on the ground. 

The Forest Forward application was also developed to inform business owners and technical staff about the impacts of climate change on the distribution of species of value to the forestry industry. It uses Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) data but other Copernicus services can be used to develop forest-oriented applications to optimize forest management and related economic activities.

Several reports have been recently published to analyze trend and status of EU forests in different regions and to identify future challenges for the sector  (e.g. for forests in the Mediterranean basin, in the Alps and the Carpathian region), to promote sustainable forest management and climate resilience through Nature-Based Solutions (e.g. Policy Paper on Outsmart climate change: work with nature!).

Several networks and association have been established to share knowledge and connect forestry associations and workers: the ERIAFF Network of the European Regions for Innovation, the Union of European Foresters, the European Forestry House (by the Confederation of European Forests Owners), the European State Forest Association , and the European Agroforestry Federation. In addition, the European Forest Institute has been established to conduct research and provide policy support on forest-related issues, connecting knowledge to action. Finally, the agricultural European Innovation Partnership integrates different funding streams so they contribute to achieve the same goal and duplicate results.


Supporting investment and funding

The Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027 is the largest EU long-term budget ever financed, and together with the Next Generation EU, it amounts to € 1.8 trillion. The MFF aim is to: (i) support the modernization of the European Union through research and innovation, (ii) promote climate and digital transitions, (iii) improve preparedness, recovery and resilience. 30% of the EU budget will be spent to fight climate change, with a special attention to biodiversity protection.

Other EU funding sources for climate change adaptation in the forestry sector are available through the LIFE Climate Action Program and the Rural Development Funds with the second pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy. The other European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI), in particular the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), including the INTERREG Europe programme, can complement them.

A comprehensive overview can be found on the EU funding of adaptation measures page.


MRE of adaptation

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) evaluated the EU funding for biodiversity and climate change in EU forests, concluding there are overall positive but limited results. The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development rules and procedures do not guarantee improved resilience to climate change. Proposals for the future include more flexibility for Member States in the design of forestry support schemes, not addressing this weakness on forest's climate resilience and adaptive capacity. 

Specifically for climate change adaptation, there is no legislation adopted to impose targets or require specific action by Member States, neither is there a framework in place requiring Member States to improve unsatisfactory forest adaptation strategies. So far, bringing woodland more prominent into climate change adaptation strategies seems hampered by a lack of knowledge and information, for example in understanding the interdependencies between climate change and projected shifts of forest vegetation. This knowledge gap affected the efforts to implement a climate resilient bioeconomy. At the positive side, the new EU climate change adaptation strategy clearly recognises this knowledge gap and is seen by the ECA as one of the main instruments to address climate change in forests. However, the ECA also observes that, in the countries and regions audited, limited quantified targets and indicators for concrete forest adaptation measures are in place. 


Highlighted indicators

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