Europe’s forest area has expanded to 215 million ha and the average growing stock with 163 m2/ha is above the world average (133 m2/ha) and is still increasing.
As shown by the report, forests remove large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. Between 2005 and 2015 the average annual sequestration of carbon in forest biomass, soil and forest products reached about 720 million tonnes. This corresponds to about 9% of the net greenhouse gas emissions for the European region. As reported, the increasing awareness of the importance of forests to mitigate and adapt to climate change is highly reflected in various forest policies at national and European level.
But not only from a forest growth perspective the report shows progress. As highlighted, also the socio-economic functions of forests play increasingly an important role in the region’s economy. The contribution to Europe’s gross domestic product (GDP) for instance amounts to EUR 103 billion annually, which corresponds to 0.8 % of the total GDP and the forest sector in Europe provides jobs and income for at least 3 million people. Not included in these statistics are the untold number of people in informal employment as well as the work carried out by millions of private owners.
The report shows also that the privately owned forest area has slowly increased up to 51% within the UNECE region, and that the number of private forest holdings has increased by approximately 18% since 1990. This transition from former public state managed forests to more private forests with millions of new forest owners has led to new structural and management challenges but also provided great new opportunities to privatise and strengthen the forest sector and economy in many European regions.
Despite the fact that the European forest sector was affected by the recent global economic recession, it seems now on a steady path of recovery. Europe still remains one of the world’s biggest producers of equivalent roundwood and has moved from being a net importer of primary wood and paper products to a net exporter.
In this context, and as frequently highlighted by many delegations during the 7th FOREST EUROPE Ministerial Conference, the transition to a bioeconomy offers great opportunities to develop the forest sector even further, as well as to foster the creation of new decent green jobs.
In addition, it should be highlighted that according to the report, significant steps have been made also in biodiversity and ecosystem protection. More than 30 million ha of European forests are protected with the main objective of conserving biodiversity and landscape. Over the last 15 years, the area of protected forests in Europe has increased by half a million ha annually. Mixed species stands dominate in European forests and natural regeneration has expanded, particular in the South-East and South West as well as Central-West of Europe. The amount of dead wood is steadily increasing. The average volume of deadwood, both standing and lying, ranges between 8 m3/ha in Northern Europe and 20 m3/ha in Central-West Europe.
Furthermore it should be noted that out of the 215 million ha total forest area only about 3.7 million ha are affected by forest damages, most frequently caused by biotic agents. And only 0.5 million ha are damaged by forest fires.
The report shows also the enormous efforts and improvements made in forest related policies, such as legislation, monitoring and assessment as well as strategies. E.g. the number of countries in Europe with a formal National Forest Programme (NFP) process has almost tripled since 2007.
The new State of Europe’s forest report provides an extensive compendium of solid statistics and information on various forest aspects and with this is regarded as an important reference for future policy developments and decisions.
Over 300 national correspondents and national and international experts provided the information required, and more than 60 authors and reviewers worked together to produce the final report. The 4th edition of the State of Europe’s Forests report has been coordinated and compiled by FOREST EUROPE’s Liaison Unit Madrid in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the European Forest Institute (EFI), the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the University of Hamburg (UHH). The UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section supported the process in collecting, processing and reviewing parts of the information.
The full State of Europe’s Forests 2015 report and the Summary for Policy Makers can be downloaded here.