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 resources). Even if European forests have grown from 1990 to 2020, more needs to be done to protect and restore them by damages and negative impacts due to deforestation and climate change.

The rapid rate of climate change may overcome the natural ability of forest ecosystems to adapt. It leads to increased risk of disturbances through storms, fire, pests and diseases with implications for forest growth and production. The economic viability of forests will be affected, mainly in southern areas of Europe, as well as the capacity of forests to provide environmental services, including changes in providing clean water and air, controlling erosion, shelter, etc. 

Climate change also affects forests ability to offset carbon emissions, thus altering the key role of forests in mitigating climate change itself. In addition, protecting and increasing forests can provide livelihoods, increase income for local communities and allow for sustainable bio-economies to be developed. About 10 and 16 million of sustainable and decent jobs can be created through the forestry sector worldwide, as well as about 3 million in the EU.

In 2013, the Commission adopted an EU Forest Strategy, which responds to new challenges facing forests and the forestry sector. Recently, a review of the EU Forest Strategy has been conducted in order to evaluate the progresses achieved in the Strategy implementation, and a new EU forest strategy is planned by 2021 in the framework of the European Green Deal (published in January 2020), with the objective to propose a coherent and holistic policy framework on European Forests. The guiding principles of the new Forest Strategy are likely to enhance sustainable forest management and multifunctionality, to improve resource efficiency and to contribute to global forest responsibility.

Climate change is identified as one of the key priority areas. With the 2030 Climate Target Plan, the EU Commission proposed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 in Europe and to reach climate neutrality by 2050. In order to respond to this target, the natural sink of forests should be maintained, and further increased, and actions to maintain and enhance forest resilience and adaptive capacity are among the measures identified to ensure sustainable forest management.


Policy framework

The EU's rural development policy, the second pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), is one of the main means of EU-level funding for forestry measures. 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. The new EU Forest Strategy encourages actions for using forest resources in a way that minimizes impacts on the environment and climate, and priorities the forest outputs that have higher added-value.

The European Commission's EU strategy on adaptation to climate change (actually under public consultation for a new EU adaptation strategy) includes a Staff Working Document that provides principles and recommendations for integrating climate change adaptation considerations under the 2014-2020 rural development programs.

In addition, the European Green Deal, published in 2020, is the plan to make the EU's economy sustainable and represents and additional source of findings for promoting biodiversity preservation and forest restoration.

Finally, the first European Climate Law aims to write into law the goal set out in the European Green Deal which intend to reach a climate neutrality for Europe’s economy and society by 2050. The objective is to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions for EU countries as a whole, mainly by cutting emissions, investing in green technologies and protecting the natural environment.

The April 2019 Council conclusions recognize the role played by the EU Forest Strategy in its first five years of life in promoting a sustainable forest development, and in improving the cooperation between member states, the Commission and relevant stakeholders on EU forest-related policies. In addition, priorities for 2019-2020, and beyond 2020 periods, has been set up, such as further improving coordination, communication and the sharing of research knowledge and best practices.

In developing the post-2020 EU Forest Strategy, the new EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030 and the European Green Deal, developed by the Commission to guide the EU in achieving a sustainable green transition, represent relevant opportunities to put forest conservation on the international agenda. Efforts should be put to significantly improve the conservation status of forest species and habitats listed in the EU Nature Directives, as well as to implement the forest target of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030 (i.e. creating a coherent network of well-managed protected areas and to protect at least 30% of the EU’s land area and 30% of the EU’s sea area). Old-growth forests should be particularly protected and forest ecosystem services and functions should be valued through a sustainable forest management.

Under this framework, the post-2020 EU Forest Strategy aims to effectively increase afforestation, forest preservation and restoration, thus increasing forests potential to absorb and store CO2, promoting the bio-economy, reducing forest fires extent and impacts, while protecting biodiversity. The strategy will cover the whole forest cycle and promote the ecological and socio-economic services forests provide, including jobs. In addition, the strategy will promote preventive measures to enhance forests adaptive capacities and resilience to climate change, to reduce the risks and effects of forest fires, pests and diseases and invasive alien species and other disturbances. The post-2020 EU Forest Strategy will be also accompanied with guidelines for biodiversity-friendly afforestation, reforestation and closer-to nature-forestry practices.  The new strategy will then need to be aligned with the climate and biodiversity policies, in particular the revised LULUCF Regulation, the  Climate law and the Biodiversity strategy.

In addition, the post-2020 EU Forest Strategy aims to clarify the balance between EU and Member States competences on forest management, while forests are part of environment, energy and climate policy, which are led by the EU.


Improving the knowledge base

Differences between 2°C and 1.5°C global warming impacts on different typologies of forest have been assessed in the IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5 °C. Climate change impacts on desertification and land degradation have been assessed by the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL), that also considers impacts on forest systems and assesses options for sustainable land use and forest management. 

Strengthening the knowledge base is deemed essential to sustainably manage forests. A strong collaboration between Member States and the EU promoting innovative research and the translation of results into actions is required.

FISE will contain specific climate change module with relevant links to EEA and other information resources relevant for forests and on potential impacts of climate change also on the wood production, as well as on forest health and resilience. FISE will also allow for access to other forest information relevant for climate adaptation such as the annual statistics on the production and trade in wood and wood products for the EU and EFTA countries. 

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. in the Mediterranean basin, in the Alps and the Carpathian region), and to push the transition toward a more sustainable forestry and promoting climate resilient through Nature-Based Solutions (e.g. Policy Paper on Outsmart climate change: work with nature!)

The Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change  (FACCE-JPI), established between 21 countries, aims to identify and promote measures providing the co-benefits of reducing emissions and increasing the resilience of farming, forestry and biodiversity to climate change.

In 2012, the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI) has been launched to contribute to the European Union's strategy 'Europe 2020' for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. EIP-AGRI works to foster competitive and sustainable farming and forestry contributing to ensuring a steady supply of food, feed and biomaterials, developing its work in harmony with the essential natural resources on which farming depends.

In order to share knowledge and connect forestry association and workers, several networks and association have been established: the ERIAFF Network of the European Regions for Innovation  (@ERIAFF_Network), the Union of European Foresters, and the European Forestry House. The house was established in March 2007, by Confederation of European Forests Owners (CEPF) and the European State Forest Association (EUSTAFOR). Since then it has offered a vibrant and high-profile working and meeting place for various European forest related organizations. In addition, the European Forest Institute (EFI) has been established by European States to conduct research and provide policy support on forest-related issues, connecting knowledge to action.


Supporting funding and investment

EU funding of adaptation covering adaptation to climate change in the forestry sector is available through LIFE Climate Action and the Rural Development Funds.

According to the EU Forest Strategy, the Commission considers the Rural Development Funds, the second pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), one of the main means  to support the implementation of sustainable forest management, including adapting to climate change. 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 EU´s Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020 for the period from 2014 to 2020 mainly targets the knowledge for adaptation to climate change in forestry in the Societal Challenge 2 'Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine, maritime and inland water research, and the bio-economy'.

Highlighted indicators

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