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European forests play key economic and environmental role

Published: 30 April 2010

European forests are central to climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as for the delivery of environmental services. This role of forests and its potential for further development needs to be fully recognized. This was one of the key messages of the FAO Assistant Director General for Forestry Mr. Eduardo Rojas-Briales to the 35th session of the European Forestry Commission (EFC) which took place in Lisbon on 27-29 April.

The conference discussed how the forest sector is crucial for countries’ economic and environmental wellbeing. The meeting recognized that the attention on forests is at an all-time high, in particular thanks to the focus of the climate change negotiations on this sector.

Forests are among the world’s major carbon sinks. They store a massive 638 gigatonnes of carbon in biomass, deadwood, litter and soil, which is almost equal to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Over a quarter of the carbon stored in the world’s forests is found in the pan-European region. European foresters looked into ways and means to bridge the gap between the mitigation potential of European forests and their current low share in carbon markets.

In recent years wood has also become a major source of renewable energy in the region. For instance, in the EU it accounts for half of renewable energy sources. Over the last 20 years European forests supplied 11 billion cubic meters of wood for environmentally friendly products and energy generation. In spite of this, the wood stock in the European region grew by 7% over the same period. This represents a tremendous potential in economic and environmental terms that deserves attention in the development of energy policies.

Forests are also the guardians of our freshwater resources, and provide a wide range of other ecosystem services. For instance, they reduce sedimentation in watercourses and filter pollutants. They also play a key role in reducing risks from natural disasters. These functions are often taken for granted and the role of forest owners and managers in providing these environmental services is generally overlooked.

The potential of European forests for climate change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable energy production and the provision of ecosystem services was at the center of the discussions. Given the challenges encountered by the forest community in reaching out to other sectors, the EFC decided to engage and intensify the dialogue with the water, energy and climate change communities in those discussions.  “Forestry can indeed provide answers that need to be heard by other international forums, processes and communities, including the biodiversity world, the water sector, and the debates on energy”, stressed Mr. Andrey Vasilyev, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UNECE, which hosts the ECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section. 

For more information please contact:

Paola Deda


ECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section

UNECE Trade and Timber Division

Phone: +41 (0)22 917 2553

Peter Csoka

Senior Team Leader

Forestry Communication and Liaison Team


Phone: +39 06 5705 3925

Ref: ECE/TIM/10/P07

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