The EU27 reports that over the past two decades, its emissions from the land use sector have been more than balanced by removals on managed land, mainly through carbon sequestration in managed and natural forests, and in organic soil such as peatland. Spain, Sweden, Italy, France, Poland and Romania made up most of the EU27’s LULUCF removals in the past 10 years.
Net carbon removals in the EU27 have been on a declining trend for several reasons: i.) Europe’s forests sequester less as they age, ii.) forests have been converted to urban areas and iii.) there has been a rise in harvest rates to fulfil a growing demand for wood. In 2019, net removals amounted to about 249 MtCO₂e.– By 2030, the EU27 plans to reverse this trend and increase net removals to 310 MtCO₂e through forest restoration, sustainable land management and afforestation/reforestation.– This level of removals would be similar to the levels that prevailed in the 2000s.
In the 1.5°C pathway analysed here, removals from afforestation/reforestation reach 64 MtCO₂/year by 2030. However, this does not include some of the removals reported historically in the EU27’s greenhouse gas inventory, which occur on managed land but are not classified as human-induced by the model used to generate our pathway (see note below). If these removals were included in the modelled pathway, the sink in 2030 would likely be larger. In the longer term, the magnitude of these removals are highly uncertain, but are likely to decline as managed forests reach an equilibrium state.
Other estimates for the potential effect of near-term mitigation measures in the EU27 suggest that a larger overall sink could be achieved by 2030 than the EU’s current target. For example, an analysis has estimated that reducing the forest harvest rate by 60% could result in a net removal of around 430 MtCO₂/year in 2030. When different mitigation measures are integrated (afforestation, forest restoration, harvested wood products (HWPs), peatland restoration, grassland protection), estimates for the EU27’s potential net removals are estimated to be between 340 and 570 MtCO₂/year in 2030.,,
In the longer term, the 1.5°C pathway analysed here indicates that reforestation/afforestation could remove 540 MtCO₂/year by 2050. This is more than – but still fairly consistent with – scenarios developed by the European Commission to achieve the EU’s net zero target. For example, the EU’s LIFE-LB scenario, which prioritises land-based removals while minimising reliance on bioenergy, reaches net removals of 471 MtCO₂e/year in 2050 for the EU27. In the EU 1.5TECH scenario, which combines natural sinks and carbon removal technologies, natural sinks would remove 317 MtCO₂/year. Estimates suggest that integrated measures in the land sector could allow the EU27 to reach a net removal between 300 MtCO₂/year to 787 MtCO₂/year in 2050.,,,–
These ranges suggest a high but uncertain potential sink for the land sector in the EU, with sustainable land management practices and land restoration playing an important role. However, increasing climate change impacts are already affecting European forests and other ecosystems, making it likely that the future land sink in Europe will be vulnerable to continued warming; these effects are not yet well captured by the kinds of models used to develop these estimates. There is also uncertainty in possible biophysical impacts of changed land management practices, and these will need to be considered when developing local and national strategies.
Note: There is a discrepancy in the definition of historical emissions accounted in the 1.5°C compatible pathway and the national greenhouse gas inventories. In 1.5°C compatible pathways, the land-use net emissions arise from human-induced effects on managed land, such as land-use change that leads to deforestation, harvesting, and the growth of new forests. The national emissions inventories include both human-induced and natural effects on managed land, including CO₂ fertilisation caused by increase CO₂ concentration, natural disturbances and forest regrowth.