Europe's forests 'vital for climate goal'
Europe's forests can play a key role in helping mitigate the impact of climate change, a report described as the most comprehensive of its kind concludes.
Europe is home to 25% of the world's forests, which absorb about 10% of the EU's annual emissions, it added.
The study said that improved policies had increased tree cover but that the risks of fire and disease were growing.
The report was published at a summit where ministers considered developing a legally binding deal on forest policy.
"We are benefiting now from the wise and brave decisions made in past," said Kit Prins, former UN timber chief, as he presented the findings to delegates at the Forest Europe conference in Oslo.
"The State of Europe's Forests 2011 report looks at the decisions being taken now, and we hope that people in the future will look back on these decisions positively," he observed.
Mr Prins added: "We believe that the study supplies the best information ever on Europe's forests."
Highlighting some of the findings, he explained that Europe was the most forest resource-rich region in the world, with one billion hectares that covered about 45% of the region's land area.
Roughly 80% of this total was located within the Russian Federation. Overall, the forestry sector across the continent accounted for four million jobs and 1% of GDP.
Although net tree cover was increasing by 800,000 hectares each year, Mr Prins added that there were a number of challenges that needed to be addressed.
Nitrogen deposition as a result of pollution exceeded "critical levels in many areas and is putting forest soils at risk".
He also pointed out that disease and insect infestations were on the increase, with figures suggesting that one in five trees was affected.
Forest fires were of particular concern in Russia and southern Europe, he told delegates. "Despite efforts to address the problem, the overall area affected is not falling."
In his opening address, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway said forests provided almost a third of the world's population with food, fuel or medicine, as well as acting as a "safety net in natural disasters".
"Capacity building, good governance and increased international co-operation are necessary in order to secure sustainable forest management," he told the conference.
"Forests that are sustainably managed are becoming an important part of the solution for global climate change.
"Growing forests sequester carbon, wood products store carbon throughout their lifetime, and renewable energy is provided with biomass."
The prince concluded by describing Forest Europe, which has its secretariat based in Norway, as an "important initiative" because it showed what could be achieved through international collaboration.
The ministerial conference in the Norwegian capital concludes on Wednesday.