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More forests 'would cut EU emissions'

International action on deforestation is needed to tackle climate change, ministers warned as new research showed that expanding Europe's forests could help meet EU targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Gareth Thomas, the trade and development minister, warned that global warming could not be halted without reversing the destruction of the world's forests.

Deforestation accounts for 20 per cent of all emissions of carbon dioxide, and Mr Thomas warned that ministers meeting in Bali to negotiate an agreement on climate change should include action on deforestation.

Mr Thomas said: "I call on governments to unite over the next fortnight in Bali to start designing an effective future climate change deal that includes action on deforestation."

He insisted that a deal on deforestation must include the countries which contain huge natural forests. Mr Thomas said: "Policies on deforestation should be shaped and led by the nations where forests are, which is why it's so important that action on deforestation is part of the next climate deal struck through the UN process. Developing countries, especially those which have large areas of natural forest, must be part of any climate change deal for it to succeed. As the Stern report on the economics of climate change made clear, better governance is fundamental if we are to avoid the negative impacts of deforestation."

Yesterday research from the University of Helsinki said that increasing European forestry could be essential to meet EU targets to cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2020.

They warned that forests would be needed as "carbon sinks" to absorb CO2 and supplement new technology, energy efficiency and moves to renewable power.

Academics found that increases in tree planting in 27 European countries absorbed an extra 126 million tonnes of carbon between 1990 and 2005, the equivalent of 11 per cent of European emissions. The researchers, writing in the journal Energy Policy, said that carbon credits could be issued to encourage forest expansion and could play a decisive role in cutting European greenhouse gas emissions.

Professor Pekka Kauppi, one of the authors of the study, said forests were absorbing carbon at more than twice the rate previously thought.

He said: "The good news is that trees are extremely efficient mechanisms for capturing and storing carbon. The better news is that Europe's forests are thriving and expanding and therefore will play an increasingly important role in helping the EU to reach its environmental goals."

A spokesman for Greenpeace welcomed action to reduce deforestation, but warned it was not a substitute for reducing emissions from energy consumption.