The contribution of the EU Forest-based industries to the 2050 climate neutrality objective

In 2019, the European Forest-based Industries (FBI) jointly presented their vision of the European society in 2050, a vision of sustainable choices for a climate-friendly future, and the essential role that they can play in achieving the EU’s climate neutrality objective by 2050. A new study, “Climate effects of the forest-based sector in the European Union”, led by CEPI and supported by FTP alongside 6 partners, has been published. The study demonstrates the integrated solutions to the global climate challenge provided by the European forests and the forest-based sector.

The EU Forest-based industries contribute to reaching climate neutrality in three ways: by sequesting carbon in growing forests, by storing carbon in products and by replacing fossil-based products. According to the study, the overall and positive climate effect is estimated at -806 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents annually. This corresponds to circa 20% of all fossil emissions in the European Union. About half is due to increased carbon storage in forests and forest products.

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 study also highlights that the European forest area has increased by 8% between 1990 and 2015. To be specific, the forest has expanded by 0.13 million km2 or twice the combined size of Belgium and the Netherlands. European forests (EU27+3) covered about 174 million hectares in 2015 or just under 40% of the total land area. From 1990 to 2015 the growing stock has increased by almost 40% to 28 billion m3 stemwood over bark (23 billion m3ub) (FAO, 2016), corresponding to an increase in average stocking from 125 to 160 m3ob/ha.

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.

For further reading:
Executive Summary
Full study “Climate effects of the forest-based sector in the European Union”