New study: Europe’s forests more vulnerable due to climate change

Lahemaa NP. Photo: Riina Kotter

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According to a new study carried out by the EU Joint Research Centre, climate change has made Europe’s forests more vulnerable to hazards like fires, insect outbreaks, windthrows, or combinations of these.

Over half of Europe’s forests threatened by climate change

The study found that more than 60% of the biomass in Europe’s forests – which is over 33 billion tonnes in total – is exposed to climate-related risks. The findings puts the future role of forests for timber provision or carbon sequestration under growing uncertainty.

Read the study Emergent vulnerability to climate-driven disturbances in European forests!

Mature Forest - Photo by Carles Batlles/Lluís Comas

Mature Forest – Photo by Carles Batlles/Lluís Comas

The paper was recently published in the Nature Communications journal, and explores forest vulnerability at regional and continental scales.

Using machine-learning models and satellite data from 1979 to 2018, the researchers measured and mapped the vulnerability of Europe’s forests to the above mentioned hazards. The study revealed, for example, that vulnerability to insect outbreaks has increased over the examined period, especially in the rapidly warming northern forests of Scandinavia and European Russia.

The northern regions have seen increases in insect vulnerability of around 2% per decade.

While quantifying the effects of natural risks to forests’ resilience and productivity at large scales is a major challenge for scientists, understanding the underlying mechanisms is crucial to developing effective mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Learn more about Climate change adaptation and Protected Areas

Towards better protection of Europe’s forests

Forest tree cover makes up nearly 40 % of Europe, making it one of the most forest-rich regions in the world. Besides providing timber and wood products, our forests are home to many ecosystems, they provide habitats for a major part of Europe’s biodiversity and play a crucial role in carbon sequestration.

In the framework of the European Green Deal, the European Commission is currently developing a new EU Forest Strategy, which should be adopted later this year. The proposal is expected to cover the whole forest cycle and promote sustainable forest management, afforestation and preservation in order to increase the potential of forests to absorb and store CO2, while protecting biodiversity.

Find out more about Forestry in our Knowledge Hub!