- The area covered by forests and other wooded land in Europe (39 EEA countries) has increased for many decades.
- Forest biomass in the EEA region is also growing, and the average growth rate has increased from 1990 to 2010.
- In some central and western areas of Europe, forest growth has been reduced in the last 10 years due to storms, pests and diseases.
- Future climate change and increasing CO2 concentrations are expected to affect site suitability, productivity, species composition and biodiversity, and thus have an impact on the goods and services that the forests provide. In general, forest growth is projected to increase in northern Europe and to decrease in southern Europe.
How is climate change affecting forest growth in Europe?
Impacts and consequences of climate change on forest growth and forest conditions
Note: Table shows the impacts and consequences of climate change on forest growth and forest conditions.
- Impacts and consequences of climate change on forest growth and forest conditions provided by UK National Air Quality Information Archive
Since the 20th century, the annual increment of forests in Europe (in terms of area and growing stock) has increased due to advances in forest management practices, genetic improvement and, in central Europe, the cessation of site-degrading practices. Abandoned farmland in high and mid latitudes is reverting to forest, which store much more carbon than the previous cropland.
Forests and other wooded land cover approximately 190 million ha. (1.9 million km2) in the EEA region, and this area has increased over the last decades [i]. Forest biomass has also grown over the past two decades, at an accelerating rate, as a consequence of a number of factors. A time series for 17 EEA countries shows an increase in growing stock from 85 million m3 (5.4 m3 ha-1) in 1990 to 110 million m3 (5.9 m3 ha-1) in 2010 [ii]. This has been explained primarily by the growth of young forests in Europe, which have not reached maturity, and by the increasing carbon concentration in the atmosphere. Furthermore, several studies have already noted longer growing seasons in several species, shifts in tree line and changes in species distribution. However, in some central and western forest areas of Europe, forest growth has been reduced in the last 10 years due to storms, pests and diseases.
Many aspects of projected climate change will impact forest growth and productivity (see Figure 1) [iii]. Increasing CO2 in the atmosphere might act as a fertiliser for plants and enables them to use water more efficiently, but this effect seems to be strongly dependent on local conditions such as moisture stress and soil nutrient availability and it might be limited to young trees. Nitrogen deposition may enhance forest growth in particular areas where plant-available nitrogen is still the limiting factor depending on soil, climate, vegetation, deposition history and use. However, nitrogen deposition can also enhance the risk of forest decline, if critical loads are exceeded. The concentrations of nitrogen oxides due to fossil fuel combustion are still high in spite of increased use of catalytic convertors. The high concentrations of reduced nitrogen from intensive agriculture, like ammonia are still a matter of concern for forests in the air causing eutrophication [iv]. Increases in ground-level ozone are likely in some regions due to warmer temperatures, which would cause a decrease in forest health and growth, which in turn has critical implications for forest distributions and future rates of carbon sequestration [v].
In general, forest productivity is projected to increase in areas with increased water availability, if appropriate tree species are growing there, while it is projected to decrease where water is scarce and projected to decline further. Wherever droughts increase, forest productivity is expected to decrease. Overall, climate change is projected to have a positive effect on the growing stocks in northern Europe and a negative effect in some regions in southern Europe. However, quantitative projections are not currently available as existing studies on future climate impacts on forests focus on effects on individual species.
[i] Forest Europe, UNECE and FAO, State of Europe’s forests, 2011: status & trends in sustainable forest management in Europe. (Aas, Norway: Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe, Forest Europe, Liaison Unit Oslo, 2011), http://www.twosides.info:8080/content/rsPDF_223.pdf.
[ii] Forest Europe, UNECE and FAO, State of Europe’s forests, 2011.
[iii] Svein Solberg et al., „Analyses of the impact of changes in atmospheric deposition and climate on forest growth in European monitoring plots: A stand growth approach“, Forest Ecology and Management 258, Nr. 8 (September 2009): 1735–1750, doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2008.09.057.
[iv] M A Sutton, The European Nitrogen Assessment: Sources, Effects, and Policy Perspectives (Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
[v] R. Matyssek et al., „Forests under climate change and air pollution: Gaps in understanding and future directions for research“, Environmental Pollution 160 (Januar 2012): 57–65, doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2011.07.007.
Indicator specification and metadata
- Forest area
- Volume of forest biomass
Policy context and targets
In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package (http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/adaptation/what/documentation_en.htm). This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change /* COM/2013/0216 final */ and a number of supporting documents. One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which should occur through Bridging the knowledge gap and Further developing Climate-ADAPT as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Further objectives include Promoting action by Member States and Climate-proofing EU action: promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors. Many EU Member States have already taken action, such as by adopting national adaptation strategies, and several have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation.
The European Commission and the European Environment Agency have developed the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT, http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/) to share knowledge on observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health; on relevant research; on EU, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans; and on adaptation case studies.
No targets have been specified.
Related policy documents
Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later. This webportal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
EU Adaptation Strategy Package
In April 2013 the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it will enhance the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
Methodology for indicator calculation
Data stems from the report mentioned below.
Methodology for gap filling
- Forest Europe, UNECE and FAO (2011) State of Europe's forests, 2011: status & trends in sustainable forest management in Europe Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe, Forest Europe, Liaison Unit Oslo, Aas, Norway
Data sets uncertainty
It is very difficult to separate the impacts of climate change on forests and forestry from non-climate influences (e.g. related to management) in observational data. Therefore, efforts to understand the impacts of climate change on forests and forestry are largely based on controlled experiments in laboratories and on small forest plots, and on model simulations.
Information on forest fires is collected in the European Fire Database at the JRC. The European forest fire database is an important component of the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS). Forest fire data are provided each year by individual EU Member States through several EU regulations, and additional data coming from other European countries have been checked, stored and managed by JRC within EFFIS. The quality of the data is high. A time series on forest fires exists back to 1980 for the five European countries most affected by forest fires. Currently, the database covers data from 22 countries in Europe and contains over 2 million individual fire event records.
Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/climate-impacts-and-vulnerability-2012/)
No uncertainty has been specified
State of Europe's forests
provided by United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)
Climate change (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CLIM 034
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoAnnemarie Bastrup-Birk
EEA Management Plan2012 2.0.1 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe's environment.
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