Statistics Explained

Archive:Forestry and climate change

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Data extracted in September 2018.


Greenhouse gas emissions and removals by LULUCF and agricultural source sectors, EU-28, 1990–2016
(million tonnes of CO2 equivalent)
Source: EEA (env_air_gge)

Our land, in particular vegetation and soil, and the way we use it, can have profound effects on both the removal from and emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. This recognition has recently resulted in the adoption of policies which aim to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions from land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) are offset by the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere in equivalent amounts to combat climate change. Forest ecosystem represent the most important terrestrial stocks of organic carbon. Therefore, the management of forests and different uses of harvested wood play a crucial role in the regulation of the concentration of atmospheric CO2. Considering that forests cover more than 40 % of the terrestrial surface of the EU and all of them are managed, the role of forestry in the climate change mitigation is indisputable.

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Forests and climate change - general overview

Ecologically, forests of the European Union (EU) belong to many different bio-geographical regions and have adapted to a variety of natural conditions, ranging from bogs to dry steppes and from lowland to alpine forests. Apart from the type of forest, statistical data on changes in forest area and timber resources are, along with data on soil organic carbon, key sources for reporting on the natural background stocks of the greenhouse gas (GHG) carbon dioxide (CO2) and its flows to and from the atmosphere through forest management and timber harvesting. This article presents data collected by the European Environment Agency and by Eurostat on GHG emissions and removals related to the forestry (and agricultural) sector.

The Statistics Explained article on greenhouse gas emission statistics presents data on man-made emissions of the six greenhouse gases governed by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, that the EU and the Member States report annually to the UNFCCC by means of greenhouse gas inventories. Common reporting rules are defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reporting guidelines.

The six greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). For the sake of comparison, the emissions of these gases are re-calculated and expressed as CO2-equivalents.

In the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008-2012), not all parties had to report on the CO2 emissions and removals of land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF), even though LULUCF is one of the six inventory sectors of the IPCC Excel.jpg Reporting Format sector classification. This reporting was, however, carried out by EU Member States.

LULUCF is a special sector of the reporting on greenhouse gases because only a small part of its emissions and removals count towards compliance with targets - only those quantities resulting from human activities beyond the natural carbon cycles. In this sector, there is a very big difference between reported and accounted quantities of emissions of greenhouse gases.

More detailed reporting information on LULUCF is included for the Protocol's second commitment period (2013-2020) and the EU is also improving the quality of this information under its own legislation (Decision 529/2013/EU). In line with its 2020 commitment, the EU has pledged to cut its emissions to 20% below 1990 levels as part of the Europe 2020 climate and energy policy framework, excluding LULUCF. The EU is already well on track to achieve this target. Under its nationally determined contribution prepared for the Paris Agreement, the EU set its reduction target to 40 % below 1990 levels by 2030. In order to achieve these goals, the EU proposed on 20 July 2016 to fully integrate the land use sector into the EU 2030 climate and energy framework. The Regulation on the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions and removals from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) into the 2030 climate and energy framework (hereafter referred to as the "LULUCF Regulation") was adopted in May 2018.

The LULUCF sector not only emits greenhouse gases but also removes CO2 from the atmosphere. According to the data compiled by the EEA for the EU-28 as a whole, managed forest land and harvested wood products (HWP) as a carbon pool recognized in the LULUCF Regulation are the two accounting categories of LULUCF that absorb and store CO2 from the atmosphere. The other six accounting categories of LULUCF, according to reported data, appear to be mostly net CO2-emitters: cropland, grassland, wetlands, settlements, other land and other land use types included in the LULUCF Regulation. This assertion may not hold for individual Member States because the way land areas are managed determines whether they are a source or sink of CO2. For example, grassland will become a sink if it is managed without disturbing the soil, and forests can become accounted sources of CO2 when more timber is felled than grows in a given time period or when forest soil, holding large quantities of organic carbon, is exposed to increased temperatures after large-scale deforestation.

The data compiled by the EEA for the EU-28, and published in Eurostat's table env_air_gge, covers the official data reported to the UNFCCC by the Member States under Regulation (EU) No 525/2013 on "a mechanism for monitoring and reporting greenhouse gas emission (MMR)". EU forest land alone removes up to 10.4 % of the total EU greenhouse gas emissions every year. When carbon stored in harvested wood products is added to the removals of forest land, the two sectors combined absorb up to 11.1% of total annual EU greenhouse gas emissions (See table 1).

Table 1: Total GHG emissions and removals by forests and harvested wood products in the EU in 1990-2016
Source: EEA (env_air_gge)


Forests and climate change - accounting rules

However, contrary to the reporting on emissions of the industrial sectors, the reported emissions and removals of CO2 in the LULUCF sector cannot be used as such to demonstrate compliance with targets, but are subject to a set of accounting rules. The main justification for the accounting approach in LULUCF is that a significant part of the removals associated with carbon stocks in forests and soils is the result of the natural greenhouse gas cycle. While reporting concerns an inventory of all emissions and removals, accounting aims to identify those emissions and removals that are human-induced and the result of additional action by humans over and above the natural carbon cycles that have always existed on the planet. As shown in an analysis of LULUCF 1990-2012 performed by the Joint Research Centre[1], the accounted annual removals of CO2 of the EU-28 were on average only 75 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent, or just 1.6 % of the average total EU-28 greenhouse gas emissions in the period 2008-2012.

The accounting rules rely on methodologies developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). EU Member States have agreed to these rules; they have been transposed into EU legislation with the adoption of the so-called "LULUCF decision" (Decision 529/2013/EU).

The EU's 2016 proposal contains a "no-debit" commitment for the LULUCF sector, meaning that the accounted CO2 emissions from land use should be entirely compensated by an equivalent removal of CO2 from the atmosphere in the same sector. Figure 1 shows that this was the case under the reporting approach in all of the past reporting years, i.e. that the emissions of LULUCF sectors 4B to 4F and 4H were more than compensated by the removals of sectors 4A and 4G (forest land and harvested wood products). The LULUCF emissions only amounted to roughly one third of the LULUCF removals in most of the years since 1996. However, under the agreed accounting approach, the margin will not be as described here because forest management removals of CO2 are accounted against a reference level and therefore may present only the net change in the carbon sink. Moreover, EU Member States still have to gain experience in their accounting for grassland, cropland, wetland and the other LULUCF sub-sectors. The final results for all of the years of the Kyoto Protocol's second commitment period will only be available in 2022. Several EU Member States have signalled that cropland could become a larger source of emissions, as more food and biomass for energy is produced. Grassland could be converted to cropland and forest area could diminish.

Figure 1: Greenhouse gas emissions and removals by LULUCF and agricultural source sectors, EU-28, 1990–2016
(million tonnes of CO2 equivalent)
Source: EEA (env_air_gge)
Figure 2: Consumption of wood products and storage of CO2, EU-28, 1992–2015
Source: EEA (env_air_gge); Eurostat (for_swpan)

In the Commission's proposal on integrating LULUCF into EU climate policy (SWD/2016/249), the probable average annual surplus of CO2 removals in the LULUCF sector without additional measures (but with improved rules) would be limited to less than 20 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent per year at EU-28 level on agricultural land[2]. This sink is estimated to increase to over 90 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent per year if additional action is taken on agricultural land and afforestation is carried out. In the Commission's analysis, the accounting performance of managed forests is assumed to be neutral, due to uncertainties over the setting of reference levels and the impact of demand on timber harvests.

One such uncertainty is the harvesting of timber for fuel, which is projected to increase in order to reach the EU's targets for renewable energy in 2020. Eurostat's data on the gross inland consumption of solid biofuels (which represents mostly wood) show a 43.1 % increase between 2005 and 2016, and the trend from most recent years indicates further increase (online code (nrg_107a)). The statistics include estimates of consumption by households, in line with the Regulation on energy statistics, Regulation (EC) No 1099/2008. In the same period, there has been an increase of 30.2 % in fuelwood harvesting in the EU-28, according to Eurostat's data on production and trade in wood products (Joint Forest Sector Questionnaire, JFSQ), and again, the trend from most recent years indicates further increase. The informal harvesting of wood for fuel is however still under-reported in the JFSQ, probably by a considerable amount. Timber used for fuel is considered to be equivalent to combustion in the year of harvest and hence applied to the debit side of LULUCF accounting. If fuelwood consumption is underestimated, less carbon would be stored in forests than is accounted, and emissions of carbon from forests could be underestimated.

Objectives of the accounting rules

A direct objective of such accounting rules is to increase human-induced CO2 removals in the LULUCF sector, where the EU – as any other party under the UNFCCC - will have to make additional efforts.

One such effort could be the substitution of some of the steel and concrete used in the construction industry by timber products. The carbon stored in harvested wood products of LULUCF sector 4G is mainly calculated for long-lived products such as the sawnwood used for construction or the wood panels used for interior finishing. Eurostat's JFSQ data are used to estimate wood products consumed (i.e production + imports – exports). Figure 2 shows data for the two main wood products along with the EEA estimates of carbon stored in harvested wood products. Although there are many different ways of estimating this carbon, as described by the IPCC, and production, stock change or decay functions may be applied to the products' data, there is quite a good fit between the consumption of sawnwood and panels and the EEA estimate of CO2 stored in harvested wood products in the EU-28. Both lines show the sharp drop in production due to the financial and economic crisis in 2008-2009.

The second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol will end in 2020. An international agreement on the post-2020 international climate framework was adopted at the UN climate conference in December 2015 (Paris Agreement). International principles and methods on how to include the associated emissions and removals in the post-2020 period will have to be discussed among the Parties as a follow-up to the Paris Agreement. It is important to note that there will be no obligation to continue with the international rules on LULUCF defined for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Internationally, there is likely to be a move towards a land-based accounting regime and away from the activity-based rules of the Kyoto Protocol, and the Commission's proposal reflects this. If adopted, this will make land cover data more important; the Member States will make more use of their statistics on land cover and land use, and incentives to improve their quality and utility will be stronger. This applies also to forest-related data, and the improvements generated by such a shift could be used for the European Forest Accounts (EFA) proposed by Eurostat in 2016, covering all sources of woody biomass, whether available for wood supply or not.

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

Eurostat, the Timber Committee of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the Forestry Section of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) collect and collate statistics on the production and trade of wood through their Joint Forest Sector Questionnaire. Each partner collects data from a different part of the world; Eurostat is responsible for the data collection exercise pertaining to the EU Member States and EFTA countries.

Eurostat produces annual data on forestry using two questionnaires:

The JFSQ provides data for supply balances of timber used for wood products and for energy, and for estimating the carbon contained in harvested wood products.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) collates and publishes data on greenhouse gas emissions and removals sent by EU Member States to UNFCCC and the EU Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Mechanism and publishes them in a Data viewer. Eurostat publishes the same data in its database table env_air_gge.


A broad array of EU policies and initiatives has a bearing on forests. For several decades, environmental functions of forest have attracted increasing attention — for example, in relation to the protection of biodiversity and, more recently, in the context of climate change impacts and energy policies. Apart from the traditional production of wood and other forest-based products, forests are increasingly valued for their environmental role and as a public amenity. The EU promotes sustainable forest management, aiming to

  • create and preserve jobs and otherwise contribute to rural livelihoods;
  • protect the environment by preserving the soil, minimising erosion, purifying water, protecting aquifers, improving air quality, absorbing carbon, mitigating climate change, and preserving biodiversity;
  • monitor the state of forests to meet environmental agreements;
  • improve the competitiveness of forest-based industries in the internal market;
  • promote the use of wood and other forest products as environmentally friendly products;
  • reduce poverty in developing countries by furthering forest law enforcement, fair trade conditions and halting deforestation and illegal logging.

The European Commission presented a new EU forest strategy (COM(2013) 659) for forests and the forest-based sector in 2013, in response to the increasing demands put on forests and to significant societal and political changes that have affected forests over the last 15 years. The strategy is a framework for forest-related measures and is used to coordinate EU initiatives with the forest policies of the Member States. In March 2010, the European Commission adopted a Green paper on forest protection and information in the EU: preparing forests for climate change (COM(2010) 66 final). The paper aimed to stimulate debate concerning the way climate change modifies the terms of forest management and protection, and how EU policy should develop as a consequence.

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Other articles
Dedicated section

Economic accounts for forestry and logging - values at current prices (tag00058)
Roundwood production (tag00072)
Total sawnwood production (tag00073)
Total paper and paperboard production (tag00074)
Forest increment and fellings (tsdnr520)
Removals, production and trade (for_rpt)
Roundwood removals (for_rptr)
Roundwood production and trade (for_rptt)
Production and trade in primary products (for_rptp)
Trade in secondary processed products (for_rpts)
Greenhouse gas emissions by source sector (source: EEA) (env_air_gge)


  1. 20/07/2016 - SWD/2016/249 - Impact Assessment, Figure Annex 5.2, p. 31
  2. 20/07/2016 - SWD/2016/249 - Impact Assessment, Table 7, p. 39