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The Facts On European Forest Growth

As the effects of environmental issues, such as global warming, become more evident each year, we have begun to reconsider our impact on the Earth and change our actions for the better. However, in our efforts to generate a greener world, misinformation can spread and create scepticism on what is and isn’t a sustainable resource. Paper production has seen its fair share of misinformation. 59% of Europeans believe that forests are shrinking in size which is why it’s important to know the facts on forest growth before making a decision on sustainability and paper materials.

The Facts

European forests are where the region’s paper mills source over 90% of their wood fibre. 74% of wood and 90% of pulp purchased by European paper industries have certification schemes in place. These well recognised certifications are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Both FSC and PEFC have similar objectives: the certification of forests credibility, verifying the standards of responsible forest management, conserving the natural habitats of plants and animals, and respecting the rights of the local communities. They also both operate robust chain of custody schemes that track wood and wood fibre through every step of the supply chain, from the forest to the end-user.

Cellulose fibre is the primary raw material needed to produce paper. Wood is usually the dominant source for papermaking because of its renewable and recyclable nature, technical properties, relatively low cost, and year-round availability.

The pulp and paper industry depend on sustainable forest management to provide a reliable supply of wood fibre. Of the fibre used by the European pulp and paper industry, 45% comes from virgin wood fibre and 55% from paper for recycling. These means that more than half of the cellulose fibre is obtained from recycled paper.

One of the largest myths associated with European forest growth is that it is not growing at all. However, between 2005 and 2020, European forests grew by 58,390km. That equates to an area larger than Switzerland and the equivalent of 1,500 new football pitches every day. This huge growth of forest land has been possible due to afforestation, which is the planting of trees on previously unforested land such as abandoned and unused land. Currently forests cover approximately 202,150 million hectares in Europe.

Unfortunately, deforestation is still a fact, but it is most present in the tropics, with agriculture and poorly planned infrastructures being the primary cause. According to the WWF, deforestation is a major concern in tropical rainforests because these forests are home to much of the world’s biodiversity. In 2019, the tropics lost close to 30 soccer fields’ worth of trees every single minute. The issues of deforestation highlight the importance of sustainable forest management, not just as a valuable resource, but also to provide habitats for wildlife and mitigating climate change.

The Benefits

The surrounding community of sustainable forests have a variety of benefits. These forests directly affect the livelihoods of 20% of the global population by providing fast-rate wood products, renewable energy, natural carbon capture and storage, and other ecosystem services such as controlling floods and droughts, reducing erosion risks and protecting watersheds. They also offer recreational use, cleaner oxygen levels than in industrial cities, and can provide cultural or spiritual importance to some.

The vast majority of biodiversity is found in the world’s forests. Keeping forest management sustainable is not only important for our benefit but also for the habitats of many different species around the world. Altogether, forests contain more than 60,000 different tree species which provide habitats for 80% of amphibian species, 75% of bird species, and 68% of mammal species.

The importance of sustainable forest growth and management has been recognised as essential for the production of paper and paper-based products. With the enforcement of certification schemes, the adaptive attitudes towards sustainable business, and the ecological and societal expectations, the forestry sector may bring in a variety of new opportunities. In the future we could expect to see new benefits such as the creation of new greener jobs, different types of services, and profitable investments that would enhance the competitiveness and sustainable management of the forest sector.