These forests are important carbon sinks, and their conservation efforts are vital for the EU’s vision of achieving climate neutrality by 20502.
However, the increasing demand for forest services and products, driven by the bioeconomy, poses challenges for sustainable forest management.
Here we use fine-scale satellite data to observe an increase in the harvested forest area (49 per cent) and an increase in biomass loss (69 per cent) over Europe for the period of 2016–2018 relative to 2011–2015, with large losses occurring on the Iberian Peninsula and in the Nordic and Baltic countries.
Satellite imagery further reveals that the average patch size of harvested area increased by 34 per cent across Europe, with potential effects on biodiversity, soil erosion and water regulation.
The increase in the rate of forest harvest is the result of the recent expansion of wood markets, as suggested by econometric indicators on forestry, wood-based bioenergy and international trade.
If such a high rate of forest harvest continues, the post-2020 EU vision of forest-based climate mitigation may be hampered, and the additional carbon losses from forests would require extra emission reductions in other sectors in order to reach climate neutrality by 20503.