A fossil-free EU

Forests are high on the EU’s agenda thanks to their importance for combating climate change, protecting biodiversity, and providing jobs, sustainable materials, and energy. Forestry and wood can assist in the green transition of the economy, to help us reach the goal of a resource-efficient, fossil-free Europe. The forest helps us with our climate challenges in two ways: by binding carbon, and through the substitution or displacement effect.

Forests and forest-based products help lower emissions

A substitution effect occurs when wood-based products replace products made from fossil raw materials. This means that fossil carbon is removed from the materials cycle and replaced with biogenic carbon. The total amount of carbon in circulation therefore stops increasing.

The total annual climate benefit of forests and forestry is 806 million tons of CO2e in Europe. That corresponds to 20 per cent of EU’s total fossil emissions. Looking ahead to 2030, the forest sector has the potential to contribute to the mitigation of carbon emissions to the equivalent of at least 30 per cent of EU fossil fuel emissions. And the carbon stock in European forests keep increasing. Between 1990 and 2020 it rose by 48 per cent.[1]

The substitution effect plays a crucial role in reducing climate impact and is a key to achieving the EU’s climate targets. Products produced from forest raw material have significantly lower climate impact than fossil or non-renewable alternatives. The substitution effect amounts to 410 Mt CO2e/year.

The net sink, in other words the increased carbon storage, in European forests is -406 Mt CO2e/year, and in forest products -41 Mt CO2e/year – resulting in a total of -447 Mt CO2e/year.[2]

After deducting the forest sector’s fossil emissions the combined positive climate effect of Europe’s forests is 806 Mt CO2e/year, or around 20 per cent of EU’s total fossil emissions.


Annually sequestrated in the forest, stored in products, substituted for high-carbon alternatives or substituting fossil fuels–removing the equivalent of 20% of EU total fossil emissions.

Peter Holmgren, Climate effects of the forest-based sector in the European Union, 2019

Research on new forest-based materials

Significant research progress is also being made in the development of new materials and products that could reduce costs, carbon dioxide emissions, and strengthen Europe’s strategic open autonomy. Such products include everything from batteries and textiles to glass and renewable fuels.

At the same time, more sustainable forest management methods are constantly evolving, to ensure that the development of the bio-economy doesn’t come at the expense of the environment.


Biofuels are transport fuels in liquid or gas forms, such as biodiesel and bioethanol, made from biomass. They serve as a renewable alternative to fossil fuels in the EU’s transport sector, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

By 2030, the EU aims to increase the share of renewable energy in transport to at least 14 per cent, including a minimum share of 3.5 per cent of advanced biofuels. A requirement will have to be established by the EU countries, applicable on fuel suppliers to ensure the achievement of the target.

Renewable energy sources in the EU

The Renewable Energy Directive (RED) commission that 42,5 per cent of all the energy usage in EU will be produced from renewable energy sources by 2030.[3]

In 2021, the European Commission proposed revisions to RED, as a part of the legislative package Fit for 55. The proposal was to convert the percentage of renewable energy sources within transport fuels to a greenhouse gas intensity reduction target of 13 percent. This was made to align the target better with the EU’s 2030 climate goals.

Ever since the Renewable Energy Directive was adapted in 2009, renewables have grown yearly, reaching 21.8 percent in 2021. Within EU, Sweden had the highest share of renewables in energy consumption (62.6 per cent), ahead of Finland (43.1 per cent) and Latvia (42.1 per cent), as reported to Eurostat.

Share of greenhouse gas emissions by source, 2020
European Union

Biodiversity and active forestry go hand in hand

Forests are virtually an infinite resource, if managed right and sustainably. Overall, about 39 per cent of EU’s land area is covered by forest, providing invaluable services for both the economy, for the climate and for biodiversity. Sustainable forest management plays an indispensable role in preserving and developing biodiversity.

While challenges remain, there are many positive biodiversity trends. The number of tree species is steadily increasing and the forest area has increased by almost 10 per cent since 1990. Forests now cover 39 per cent of Europe. About 15 per cent (or 31 million ha) of European forests are protected, with the main objective of conserving biodiversity, while about 9 per cent (18 million ha) aim at protection of landscapes and specific natural elements.

 39 % of EU’s land area is covered by forest