Showcasing continent's growing forests - Forest Europe 2011, Oslo

By Martin Leggett - 14 Jun 2011 12:34:0 GMT
Showcasing continent's growing forests - Forest Europe 2011, Oslo

Too often the new coming from the forests of the world is bleak, as they buckle under the impacts of climate change, deforestation and pollution.

But in this International Year of the Forests, European ministers, meeting in Oslo today, are looking to build on a success story for the continent's woodlands.

They are there to discuss ways to strengthen the protection, and expansion, of European forests, under the umbrella of the Forest Europe group - a body set up by 47 European nations some two decades ago. Crown Prince Haakon of Norway is opening the sixth meeting of forestry meetings, held every four years, Norway's capital today.

The treasuring of our forests, which lies at the heart of the policies being debated at the conference, runs beyond the loss of such a beautiful part of our natural environment. Forests help us in a wide number of ways; they absorb man-made CO2 emissions; biodiversity peaks under their eaves; and they prevent soils from slipping away, as well as helping to provide clean fresh waters.

In addition to those environmental services, forests can provide all manner of sustainable wood products - from building to heating fuels - employing 4 million people in the process.

Surprisingly, Europe is big on the map of global forestry resources - over a quarter of the world's forests are to be found on the continent, particularly in Russia. And from the wave-lashed Atlantic shores to the rolling Ural mountains, forests account for nearly half of the landmass of Europe, at just over a billion hectares.

The good news is that, since the nations of Europe signed up to Forest Europe - in a bid to strengthen the development of sustainable forest management - its forests have grown by nearly 13 million hectares, an area the size of Greece.

The task ahead of the signatories is still a formidable one though, with the growing shadow of climate change, and increasing pressures to maximize land use, for food and biofuels. One of the main items on the agenda of the conference, which runs from the 14th to the 16th of June, is to decide whether to move from voluntary cooperation, to a legally-binding agreement, so as to solidify policy gains.

That is a goal being enthusiastically promoted by the hosts, Norway. Its forestry minister, Lars Peder Brekk, said that it is 'important to make progress and launch the proceedings for the legally binding agreement.'

Such an legal framework could provide inspiration for other regions, where progress in halting forest destruction has been harder to achieve. 'It is very important for the future - it can be a model for such legislation and work in other parts of the world,' said Mr Brekk.

Top Image Credit: © Pakhnyushchy Y.