Climate change: better using EU forests as carbon sinks

Learn how the EU wants to use forests' power to absorb CO2 to fight climate change and reduce its carbon footprint even further through our infographics.

The EU has launched several initiatives to reduce emissions. As forests play a crucial role in capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that would otherwise contribute to global warming, the EU is working on rules to increase its carbon sinks.

In March 2023, Parliament approved new ambitious rules governing the land use, land use change and forestry sector ,  increasing EU carbon sinks 15% by 2030 . The rules still have to be formally endorsed by the Council.

Read on to find out key facts and figures about forests in EU countries and what Parliament is proposing to strengthen their capacity to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The European Parliament is amending rules on land use, so that agricultural land, as well as forests, can capture more carbon

The importance of forests in the EU: key facts


EU forests absorb the equivalent of 7% of the EU's total greenhouse gas emissions every year.

The EU boasts 159 million hectares of forest, covering 43.5% of its land area. Forest coverage can vary considerably from one EU country to another, from just over 10% in Malta to close to 70% in Finland.

In addition to serving as carbon sinks, forests provide numerous ecosystem services: they help to protect the soil from erosion, form part of the water cycle, protect biodiversity by providing a habitat for numerous species, and regulate the local climate.

Infographic on forests in the EU
Forests occupy 43.3% of the EU's land

Which sectors are affected by this legislation?

The revised plans concern the land use, land use change and forestry sector, which covers mainly forest land and agricultural land, as well as land whose use has changed to, or from, one of these uses.

This sector does emit greenhouse gases. For example through land-use changes, especially when forests are used for something else like arable land, when trees are cut, or because of the livestock on agriculture land.

However, it is also the only sector that can remove CO2 from the atmosphere, mainly through forests.

Forests help reduce the equivalent of 7% of the annual EU greenhouse gas emissions
Forests help reduce the equivalent of 7% of the annual EU greenhouse gas emissions.

What are the new rules?

The new rules will increase the EU’s natural carbon sinks, for example by restoring wetlands and bogs, planting new forests and halting deforestation. This should lead to an even bigger reduction of EU emissions of 57% for 2030, compared to the previously set 55% - removing at least 310 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

From 2026, EU countries will have nationally binding 2030 targets for removals and emissions from the land use, land use change and forestry sector, based on recent removal levels and potential for further removals. Until then, EU countries will have to ensure that emissions in the sector do not exceed the amount that has been removed.

The rules also ensure improved monitoring and more flexibility for member states, including compensation if they have been affected by natural disturbances such as forest fires, pests or storms and the possibility to use credits from the secor to offset emissions from sectors covered by the Effort Sharing Regulation.

EU efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

The revision of land use and forestry rules is part of the Fit for 55 package that aims to deliver the EU target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, as set in the Climate Law.

Other pieces of legislation in the package include proposals on emissions trading, effort sharing between EU countries, car emissions, renewable energy and energy saving.

This article was originally published on 13 September 2017 and was last updated in March 2023.