Europe has lost large areas of woodland in recent years, a consequence of the increase in forest exploitation. This loss both leads to a reduction in water absorption capacity and compromises the fight against the climate crisis, says an article published Thursday in Nature.
The study, carried out by the European Commission (EC) Joint Research Centre, analyses data obtained by satellite and recalls that around 38% of the European Union’s forest extension is being used by the timber industry.
The authors of the study admit that cutting trees is customary in this context, but stress that biomass loss increased by 69% in the period 2016-2018, while “the area of forest harvested also grew by about 49%”.
Therefore, the reduction of forest areas will be an obstacle to the climate change strategy that has been designed around forests by the Community authorities for the coming years, warn scientists.
By acting as “carbon sinks”, European forests are able to eliminate about 10% of total greenhouse gases.
The increase in forest holdings therefore poses risks to maintaining the existing balance between demand for timber and the urgent need to preserve key ecosystems for the environment.
The researchers analysed satellite data reduced to a small scale in order to assess changes in forest exploitation areas in woodlands in the years 2004 to 2018 in 26 EU countries.
Thus, “the pace of exploitation” was stable between 2004 and 2015 in most countries, but increased sharply between 2016 and 2018 in countries with important forestry activities, such as bioenergy industries and stationery.
The largest increase in forest exploitation was recorded in Sweden and Finland, which together accounted for more than 50% of the total increase of the 26 countries in the years 2016 to 2018.
Portugal, Spain, Estonia, Poland, Latvia and France together accounted for 30% of this increase, the article states.
Experts suggest that the increase in forest exploitation in the European Union and the impact on carbon emissions are aspects that should be considered when setting targets to combat the climate crisis from 2020.