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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. Changes in season lengths and temperatures can lead to increased occurrences of invasive pests and diseases as well as disturbing the lifecycles of many native forest species.
  • Forests hold an important role in our economy and society, creating jobs, 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, threatened by climate change by increasing tree mortality, reducing vegetation growth, and causing more severe storms and more frequent fires.
  • The EU has established a comprehensive policy framework to promote climate change resilient forests able to deliver the many ecosystem services requested by society. It comprises of the EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change, the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, the new EU Forest Strategy for 2030, and the EU Soil Strategy for 2030. In addition, it includes legislation such as the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry Regulation, the EU Nature Restoration Law, the proposed EU Forest Monitoring Law, and the proposed EU Regulation on forest reproductive material.

Impacts and vulnerabilities

About 160 million hectares (39% of EU land) are covered by forests or other wooded land (see EU forestry explained). Half of the Natura 2000 network is protected forest area, covering 38 million hectares.

The rate of climate change is faster than the ability of forest ecosystems to adapt naturally. 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 and in Central Europe, 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 like clean water and air, food and fiber, CO2 removal, carbon stock, erosion control and provide habitat for forest biodiversity. A recent study suggests that the tree canopy mortality rate in Europe has doubled since the late 20th century, affecting the equivalent to 1% of the EU-27 forest area each year.


Policy framework

The new EU Forest Strategy for 2030 sets out to protect and restore forests in the European Union. It aims to support the socio-economic functions of forests, protect and restore the EU forest area to combat climate change and reverse biodiversity loss. The Strategy focuses on: effective monitoring through the proposed forest monitoring law, financial incentives to forest owners to improve the quantity and quality of EU forests, promoting sustainable forest use, developing skills and empowering people to practice sustainable forest management, re- and afforestation of biodiverse forests by planting 3 billion trees by 2030. The last is part of the pledge to protect and restore nature together with the new EU Nature Restoration Law agreed in late 2023.

As part of the European Green Deal, and the new EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030, the new New 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, promoting their multifunctional role and contributing to adaptation requirements.

In addition, the LULUCF Regulation has a binding commitment for emission reduction, to ensure the accounting not only from forests but 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 shows that the growing unsustainable land-use practices adversely affect 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. Other 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. Forest Europe is also an important portal and resource on the pan-European processes for dialogue and cooperation, on forest policies in Europe including information on sustainable forest management, on the pan-European fire risk facility, and on green jobs and forest education. The EUROSTAT also has a lot of pan-european forest statistics available per country.

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 and other Copernicus services can be used to develop forest-oriented applications to optimize forest management and related economic activities.

Several case studies and report items have been recently published on Climate-ADAPT to help describe some adaptations of forests in different European regions (e.g. for forests in the Mediterranean basin, and in the Belgian Sonian forest) . See also the latest evidence on the ability of Europe’s forests to support biodiversity while removing and storing carbon from the atmosphere or guidelines on closer-to-nature forest management

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 and Forest Europe conduct research and provide policy support on forest-related issues, connecting knowledge to action.


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. There is financial support for forestry in the CAP for example for afforestation, creation of woodland, prevention of forest damages by fires or restoring damaged forests. There is also a recent support document and guidance on public and private payment schemes for forest ecosystem services.

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

Better forest monitoring throughout Europe will enable actions against the cross-border threats of pests, droughts and wildfires that are exacerbated by climate change and support compliance with agreed EU legislations. For this reason the commission has proposed a new EU Forest Monitoring Law.  It will enable the collection and sharing of comprehensive, timely and comparable forest data obtained from Earth Observation technology and ground measurements to support decision-making and policy implementation.

Highlighted indicators

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