Strömsnäsbruk, Sweden
Image credits: Linda Söndergaard on Unsplash, 2017

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). Even if the extent of European forests has increased in the last decades, more needs to be done to protect and restore them due to the damages and negative impacts caused by deforestation and climate change.

The rapid rate of climate change may overcome the natural ability of forest ecosystems to adapt. As reported in the new EU Adaptation Strategy, 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, erosion control and provide habitat for forest biodiversity). 

Climate change also affects the ability of forests to remove CO2 and store carbon in wood and soil, and thus threatening to alter the key role of forests in mitigating climate change. Forests are, however, expected to make an important contribution to the achievement of the EU 2030 climate target (i.e. a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% of by 2030 compared to 1990 and climate neutrality by 2050) (see the European Climate Law and 2030 Climate Target Plan). This underscores the importance of maintaining and strengthening the resilience and adaptive capacity of forests to climate change impacts.


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) integrating adaptation into macro-fiscal policy, (2) promoting nature-based solutions for adaptation, including a sustainable management of forests, with new financial incentives and certification of carbon removals, and (3) stimulating local adaptation actions to improve the science-based knowledge on climate risks, ecosystem restoration, and sustainable management for minimizing risks, improving resilience, and ensuring the continued delivery of vital ecosystem services and features. Major emphasis will be also 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. Adaptation should also be integrated in the update of Natura 2000 and climate change guidance, and in guidelines on biodiversity-friendly afforestation and reforestation, and in the forthcoming EU Forest Strategy. In addition, in the framework of the reformed CAP post 2020, Member States will be able to encourage forest managers to maintain, grow and manage forests in a sustainable way by developing national strategic plans.


Improving the knowledge base

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.

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 promoting climate resilient 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 association and workers: the ERIAFF Network of the European Regions for Innovation (@ERIAFF_Network), the Union of European Foresters, the European Forestry House, established by Confederation of European Forests Owners (CEPF), the European State Forest Association (EUSTAFOR), and the European Agroforestry Federation (EURAF). In addition, the European Forest Institute (EFI) has been established to conduct research and provide policy support on forest-related issues, connecting knowledge to action. Finally, the EIP-AGRI, llunched in 2012, contributes to integrating different funding streams so that they contribute to achieve the same goal and duplicat results.


Supporting funding and investment

The Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) is the largest EU 2021-2027 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 area are available through the LIFE Climate Action Program and the Rural Development Funds with the second pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The other European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI), in particular the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), including the INTERREG Europe programme, can complement them.

The Horizon Europe (2021-2027) with relevance for adaptation in the forestry sector is the EU key funding program for research and innovation, with a budget of € 95.5 billion. It comprises 3 Pillars (Excellent Science, Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness, and Innovative Europe) to deal with climate change, help in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and boost the EU’s competitiveness and growth. In addition, the Horizon 2020-funded European Green Deal Call (€ 1 billion) stimulates research and innovation projects to respond to the climate crisis and represents an additional source of findings for promoting biodiversity preservation and forest restoration.

Highlighted indicators

Relevant tile