The forests of Europe is a key factor in making the European circular bio-economy a reality. The potential of forest raw materials to replace fossil-based materials is an important part of Europe’s strength, resilience, and self-sufficiency. Developing the forestry sector by respecting environmental objectives is a pan-european effort, involving all countries, companies, forest owners and organisations with an interest in the future of forests and forestry.
The forestry sector and forest industry represent 3% of EU GDP and has a yearly turnover of 520 billion euros. Four million people are employed, mostly outside urban areas. Thanks to this, Europe is a net exporter of wood and paper products.
Today’s forest industry is highly specialised. Sawmills produce high-quality wood mostly for the construction industry, buildings and furniture, with the residual streams used in the pulp and paper industry, in the district heating sector, or converted into biofuels. The pulp and paper industry uses cellulose from trees to produce everything from hygiene products and packaging materials to textiles. The production of pulp generates residual heat, used for district heating, as well as energy-rich black liquor with uses that include biofuel production.
The climate challenge is at the front and center of EU’s ambitions over the coming decades. We both need to increase carbon sinks in biological systems and reduce fossil emissions. Well-managed forests play an important role in both these areas, which means that forestry is a key sector for EU’s transition to a bio-economy.
The forest’s role in combatting climate change has three components. First, using forest-based products and energy to displace fossil-based equivalents such as concrete, steel, plastic, coal and fossil gas helps reduce emissions. Second, wood-based products store carbon throughout their lifetime, whether in buildings, furniture or in cardboard and paper. Third, forests act as carbon sinks.
Overall, EU forests contribute to removing more than 800 million tons of CO2e each year. That corresponds to around 20% of total fossil emissions in the EU.
Biodiversity and healthy ecosystems are essential for our planet’s survival. The forests are key to biodiversity as they are home to many species. While much more needs to be done to restore and maintain biodiversity, there are also many positive trends.
The forest area has increased by almost 10% since 1990 and forests now cover 39% of EU. Only 65 percent of the net annual wood increment in EU forests was harvested in 2020. In Europe today, almost 24 percent of all forest area is in protected areas .
In order to protect and develop biodiversity, modern forestry has developed methods – so called “Retention Forestry” – with structures and organisms, such as live and dead trees and small areas of intact forests, to minimise disturbances for forest-living species and create habitats to maintain a close to nature forest dynamics. Environmental consideration is an integral part of modern and sustainable forest management and is developing in line with new research.