Key questions on forests in the EU
We asked experts from EFI and our wider network to answer 12 key questions about forests in the EU, and the benefits they provide to society.
Download the summary in our Knowledge to Action report
Watch the animated video: EU forests in a nutshell - all the facts and figures!
The differing perceptions people have about forests demonstrate some of the many products and services that the EU’s forests provide to society, benefiting citizens
in numerous different ways. The expectations for forests are high, and they are subject to many and varied demands.
Forests in the EU have seen major changes over time. The expansion of agricultural areas for food production and the overexploitation of forests for fuel and construction materials for e.g. mining, shipping and built infrastructure resulted in major losses of forest cover during the last centuries to millennia. Those trends in forest cover change have reversed since the beginning of the 19th century.
European forests belong to around 16 million private and public forest owners. In the EU, about 60% of the forest area is privately owned and 40% public.
Citizens living in Europe appreciate forests for the many societal benefits they provide, and literally all of them consume forest-based products ranging from furniture to paper products. However, when asked about their perceptions of forests and their benefits, environmental benefits are the most well-known, and receive the highest appreciation.
Climate change is ongoing, and global temperatures are now more than one degree above pre-industrial levels. As well as the warming trend, extreme weather events and other disturbances have been amplified, often connected to climate change.
Forests play an important role in the global carbon cycle that can help to mitigate climate change via three pathways.
Most forests in Europe have a long history of human use and have been altered in one way or another. Still, forests are one of the ecosystems with the highest biodiversity. Old-growth and natural forests are particularly valuable for biodiversity and carbon storage. Some intensively managed forests (e.g. coppice forests) can also have high conservation value.
Clean fresh water has become a key asset of the 21st century, as continued rise in demand and global change induced drought are leading to chronic shortages in many countries. Forests play an essential role in the stable provision of clean, fresh water and related ecosystem services, such as drinking water, protection from floods, erosion and landslides, and climate regulation.
Forests have positive proven effects on physical, mental and social health as well as individual well-being. This is important during crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as in the public health context in tackling chronic problems such as obesity, depression, and the related loss of work days. The impacts of forests on human health and well-being can be indirect or direct in nature, but are generally found to lead to both short-term and long-term health improvements.
Forests and trees contribute to climate-smart cities in two ways: by providing renewable, bio-based products (particularly for construction and renovation), and by providing ecosystem services important for climate management and well-being.
Most of the forests in the EU (85%) are available for timber supply, which is an important pillar of the forest’s role in income generation, employment and the transition towards a bioeconomy. Forests provide the materials for both traditional and new wood-based products and their related sectors and value chains.
Forests and forestry play a key role in climate change mitigation. Reducing deforestation and forest degradation lowers greenhouse gas emissions and forest management and afforestation can maintain or enhance forest carbon stocks and sinks. In addition, wood products can store carbon over long time periods and wood products can substitute for emissions-intensive materials.
While forest resources in the EU are growing, they are under threat in other world regions. Between 1990 and 2016, the equivalent of 800 football fields of forests was lost every hour. Most of this deforestation occurred in the tropics.