Three billion new trees in the EU’s biodiversity strategy: low ambition, but better environmental outcomes?

Heera Lee, Thomas A.M. Pugh, Marco Patacca, Bumsuk Seo*, Karina Winkler, Mark Rounsevell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


The EU Biodiversity strategy aims to plant 3 billion trees by 2030, in order to improve ecosystem restoration and biodiversity. Here, we compute the land area that would be required to support this number of newly planted trees by taking account of different tree species and planting regimes across the EU member states. We find that 3 billion trees would require a total land area of between 0.81 and 1.37 Mha (avg. 1.02 Mha). The historic forest expansion in the EU since 2010 was 2.44 Mha, meaning that despite 3 billion trees sounding like a large number this target is considerably lower than historic afforestation rates within the EU, i.e. only 40% of the past trend. Abandoned agricultural land is often proposed as providing capacity for afforestation. We estimate agricultural abandoned land areas from the HIstoric Land Dynamics Assessment+ database using two time thresholds (abandonment since 2009 or 2014) to identify potential areas for tree planting. The area of agricultural abandoned land was 2.6 Mha (potentially accommodating 7.2 billion trees) since 2009 and 0.2 Mha (potentially accommodating 741 million trees) since 2014. Our study highlights that sufficient space could be available to meet the 3 billion tree planting target from abandoned land. However, large-scale afforestation beyond abandoned land could have displacement effects elsewhere in the world because of the embodied deforestation in the import of agricultural crops and livestock. This would negate the expected benefits of EU afforestation. Hence, the EU’s relatively low ambition on tree planting may actually be better in terms of avoiding such displacement effects. We suggest that tree planting targets should be set at a level that considers physical ecosystem dynamics as well as socio-economic conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number034020
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


  • abandoned land
  • afforestation
  • EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030


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