EGU22-8950, updated on 28 Mar 2022
EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Europe’s Forest Sink Obsession

David Ellison1,2,3, Hans Petersson2, Jonas Fridman2, Kari T. Korhonen4, Helena Hentonnen4, Alex Appiah Mensah2, and Jörgen Wallerman2
David Ellison et al.
  • 1Geography Intstitute, U. Bern, Bern, Switzerland (
  • 2Forest Resource Management, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umea, Sweden (
  • 3Ellison Consulting, Baar, Switzerland (
  • 4Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE), Helsinki, Finland (

Reversing the European trend toward a declining land carbon sink has become the new mantra. The decision to increase net carbon uptake in the forest, however, is made without adequately considering the consequences for the circular bioeconomy and climate change mitigation more generally. LULUCF (Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry) accounting fails to balance net carbon uptake with the positive substitution effects from forest use recorded in the energy sector. The singular focus on the net forest carbon sink distracts attention from the fact that, over the past century, many EU Member states have managed to harvest ever larger amounts of forest, and, simultaneously, to continuously increase both forest carbon stocks, as well as the size of the annual forest increment. In the language of the European Commission’s proposed LULUCF policy framework, however, high harvesting rates and high forest use intensity are seen as anathema to climate change mitigation because they are thought to threaten the reliability of the EU UNFCCC emission reduction commitment framework, as well as the longevity of Europe’s forests, more generally. This, at least, is the unabashed message of one recent Joint Research Centre (JRC) assessment of EU forestry, which argues that rapid increases in harvest rates challenge the environmental integrity of EU emission-reduction commitments. According to the authors, ‘the loss of carbon in standing forests will require additional efforts in other sectors to reach the EU climate neutrality target by 2050’.1 We explore the parameters of this assessment, highlighting the fact that preferences for more protected forests obscure our understanding of the climate benefits forestry and forest resource use can provide. We argue the continuous net annual contributions to the global carbon budget provided by the circular bioeconomy (avoided emissions, net removals and renewed forest growth) should be more carefully considered. Increasing net forest carbon uptake by reducing forest use intensity (i.e., annual harvest) is not the only, nor is it even the most beneficial, pathway to increasing LULUCF-based climate change mitigation potential. Policymakers should pay greater attention both to the mix of micro-level mechanisms and incentives created by the EU LULUCF policy framework and the mix of public and private sector interests and investment goals intended to undergird future forest growth and LULUCF-based mitigation potential. As we demonstrate, promoting reforestation efforts beyond Managed Forest Lands (MFL) has contributed only minimally to the global carbon budget and has failed to garner the kind of investment momentum required to make it a meaningful mitigation solution. MFL, on the other hand, have witnessed far greater contributions to the global carbon budget but are generally not fully mobilized in the EU climate policy framework. Striking an appropriate balance between the many climate change mitigation, human livelihood and consumption benefits forests and forest-based resources can provide, on the one hand, and protected, biodiverse-rich forest environments, on the other, requires a more balanced approach.

How to cite: Ellison, D., Petersson, H., Fridman, J., Korhonen, K. T., Hentonnen, H., Appiah Mensah, A., and Wallerman, J.: Europe’s Forest Sink Obsession, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-8950,, 2022.

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