Letter | Published:

Climate change may cause severe loss in the economic value of European forest land

Nature Climate Change volume 3, pages 203207 (2013) | Download Citation


European forests, covering more than 2 million km2 or 32% of the land surface1, are to a large extent intensively managed and support an important timber industry. Climate change is expected to strongly affect tree species distribution within these forests2,3. Climate and land use are undergoing rapid changes at present4, with initial range shifts already visible5. However, discussions on the consequences of biome shifts have concentrated on ecological issues6. Here we show that forecasted changes in temperature and precipitation may have severe economic consequences. On the basis of our model results, the expected value of European forest land will decrease owing to the decline of economically valuable species in the absence of effective countermeasures. We found that by 2100—depending on the interest rate and climate scenario applied—this loss varies between 14 and 50% (mean: 28% for an interest rate of 2%) of the present value of forest land in Europe, excluding Russia, and may total several hundred billion Euros. Our model shows that—depending on different realizations of three climate scenarios—by 2100, between 21 and 60% (mean: 34%) of European forest lands will be suitable only for a Mediterranean oak forest type with low economic returns for forest owners and the timber industry and reduced carbon sequestration.

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We gratefully acknowledge the financial support from the 7th Framework Programme (FP7) of the European Union (Project MOTIVE, ENV-CT-2009-226544). We are also grateful for being given access to data submitted under the joint EU/ICP Forests monitoring programme (http://www.icp-forests.org/).

Author information


  1. Research Unit Forest Resources and Management, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Zuercherstrasse 111, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland

    • Marc Hanewinkel
  2. Institute of Forestry Economics, University of Freiburg, Tennenbacherstr. 4, 79106 Freiburg, Germany

    • Marc Hanewinkel
  3. Department of Biometrics and Informatics, Forest Research Institute of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Wonnhaldestr. 4, 79100 Freiburg, Germany

    • Dominik A. Cullmann
  4. Alterra, Wageningen University and Research Centre, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, Netherlands

    • Mart-Jan Schelhaas
  5. European Forest Institute, Torikatu 34, 80100 Joensuu, Finland

    • Gert-Jan Nabuurs
  6. Research Unit Landscape Dynamics, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland

    • Niklaus E. Zimmermann


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M.H. initiated the research, performed the economic evaluation and wrote the body of the paper. N.E.Z. and D.A.C. performed the statistical modelling of species range shifts; M-J.S. and G-J.N. provided the EFISCEN simulations. All authors were involved in revising and finalizing the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Marc Hanewinkel.

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