European forests growing, good news for climate: report

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Europe's forests have expanded over the past 20 years and are thus absorbing more carbon dioxide, a report published in Oslo Tuesday showed, offering some good news in the battle to limit climate change.

According to the report published during a ministerial conference on the protection of Europe's forests, the continent, including Russian territory, today counts 1.02 billion hectares (2.5 billion acres) of forest, accounting for about a quarter of the world's woods.

"Over the last 20 years, the forest area has expanded in all European regions and has gained 0.8 million hectares each year," reads the report, entitled "State of Europe's Forests 2011".

During the same period, Europe's total stock of forests, which takes into account the density and height of the trees, has grown by 8.6 billion cubic metres (303 billion cubic feet), which is equal to all of the forests in France, Germany and Poland combined, the report said.

And since trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, the expanding European forests removed some 879 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere each year between 2005 and 2010, the report said.

That corresponds to around 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Europe in 2008.

However, the report also points to problems of air pollution that affect the soil in many forest regions, as well as destruction caused by insects, disease and natural disasters like storms and fire.

The ministerial conference, known as Forest Europe, was created in 1990 with the aim to encourage protection and sustainable development and management of forests.

Ministers from its 46 member states are meeting in Oslo this week to try to draw up a legally binding international agreement to further that agenda.

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