The European forests and the forest-based sector provide integrated solutions to the global climate challenge on a very large scale. The overall and positive climate effect is estimated at -806 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents annually. This corresponds to c. 20% of all fossil emissions in the European Union.
The overall climate effect is calculated as a sum of
- net sink (increased carbon storage) in forests (-406 Mt CO2e/yr) resp. forest products (-41 Mt CO2e/yr) for a total of -447 Mt CO2e/yr
- fossil emissions caused in the forest sector value chain: +51 Mt CO2e/yr
- prevented fossil emissions by substituting fossil-based materials and fossil energy: industrial products -394; traditional energy -16; for a total of -410 Mt CO2e/yr
The key to appreciating the large contributions of forests and the forest-based sector is the perspective of an integrated and circular bioeconomy. CO2 is removed from the atmosphere in very large quantities and stored in growing forests. The carbon eventually circulates back into the atmosphere to close the loop. Part of this carbon is stored, for a longer or shorter period, in a variety of forest products before re-entering the natural biogenic carbon cycle.
Forest products have a very low climate footprint and moreover they reduce demand for products and energy that are based on fossil fuels. This prevention of fossil emissions, or substitution effect, is well known but has not previously been visualized and quantified at the European level. Existing climate reporting and climate policies are not structured to highlight such cross-sectorial effects. By providing a complete analysis of the climate effects of the European forest-based sector, this study aims to support the policy dialogue towards effective climate action.
Viewing the forest-based sector as a circular bioeconomy may open up debate on how to reinforce sinks and carbon storage in forests, while at the same time enhancing how forest products and bioenergy provide climate solutions. European forest resources continue to expand both in standing volume and annual growth, which may offer further potentials.