Europe’s forests are booming. Here’s why.


(Liam Pozz, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Charlotte Edmond, Formative Content

Around the world, forests are shrinking due to deforestation, urban development and climate change, but in Europe that trend has been reversed.

Large areas of the continent have seen a forest boom that means today more than two-fifths of Europe is tree-covered. Between 1990 and 2015, the area covered by forests and woodlands increased by 90,000 square kilometres – an area roughly the size of Portugal.

Back to nature

Forests cover almost a third of France, due in part to increased protection and a decline in farming. Over the last century, trees flourished as residents left the countryside for life in the city, and intensive agriculture meant less land was needed for farming.

Although the re-wilding process has slowed, the area of land covered by trees continues to expand. France is fourth most forested country in Europe, after Sweden, Finland and Spain.

Sweden has strong protections against deforestation and trees cover around 70% of the surface area, similar to Finland, but not all of the forests are natural. Many of Europe’s forests are managed to produce wood to make paper, or timber for construction, or as fuel. As trees in those forests are felled, more are planted, and European plantations expand by an area the size of 1,500 soccer pitches every day.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, storing carbon in their the trunks and branches, helping the fight against climate change.

More trees should be positive news for the environment and to some extent this is true. But while newly planted forests go some way to safeguard the habitats of birds, insects and woodland mammals, they are no substitute for natural forests in protecting biodiversity.

Breaking cover

Deforestation and forest degradation are becoming serious challenges in some parts of the world.

Illegal logging and land clearance for agriculture are devastating parts of countries such as Brazil and Russia.

Image: Statista

As the chart shows, Russia lost more than five and a half million hectares of its forest cover in a single year.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, we’re losing 18.7 million acres of forests each year – or 27 soccer fields every minute.

As forests disappear, the habitats of many species vanish with them. Around 80% of land-based species, including elephants and rhinos, are forest dwellers and face a growing threat from human activity.

In 2012, the World Economic Forum brought together more than 150 partners working in Latin America, West Africa, Central Africa and South-East Asia – to establish the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020: a global public-private partnership to tackle deforestation linked to the production of four commodities: palm oil, beef, soy, and pulp and paper.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

Halting deforestation is essential to avoiding the worst effects of global climate change.

The destruction of forests creates almost as much greenhouse gas emissions as global road travel, and yet it continues at an alarming rate.

In 2012, we brought together more than 150 partners working in Latin America, West Africa, Central Africa and South-East Asia – to establish the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020: a global public-private partnership to facilitate investment in systemic change.

The Alliance, made up of businesses, governments, civil society, indigenous people, communities and international organizations, helps producers, traders and buyers of commodities often blamed for causing deforestation to achieve deforestation-free supply chains.

The Commodities and Forests Agenda 2020, summarizes the areas in which the most urgent action is needed to eliminate deforestation from global agricultural supply chains.

The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 is gaining ground on tackling deforestation linked to the production of four commodities: palm oil, beef, soy, and pulp and paper.

Get in touch to join our mission to halt to deforestation.

The health of the planet is best served by protecting our forests from being cut down, and more needs to be done. But, alongside attempts to curb deforestation, initiatives that encourage the expansion of tree canopy represent a step in the right direction.

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