Forest resources

Forests are among the most diverse and widespread ecosystems on Earth. Among their functions, they provide timber and other products, and deliver cultural and recreational benefits. Forests also provide ecosystem services, including regulation of soil, air and water. In addition, they are reservoirs for biodiversity, and act as carbon sinks.

Human activities have an impact on the health and diversity of forests. They also affect natural forest growth and regeneration. These impacts have consequences for the economic, environmental and social services that forests provide. Many forest resources are threatened by overexploitation, fragmentation, degradation of environmental quality and conversion to other types of land use. The main pressures from human activities include conversion to agriculture and transport infrastructure, air pollution and forest fires.

The main challenges are to ensure sustainable management of forest resources, avoiding over-harvesting and degradation. This approach maintains timber value and an adequate supply of wood for production activities. It maintains provision of essential ecosystem services. And it preserves social, cultural and spiritual values emanating from forests. Environmental concerns should also be integrated into forestry policies (e.g. eco‐certification and carbon sequestration measures). The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) mechanism helps mobilise finance to mitigate deforestation and thus greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Main trends and recent developments

Forest resources have slightly increased in most OECD countries

Forests are unevenly distributed. A handful of the most forest-rich countries account for the bulk of the world’s forest resources. OECD countries account for about 27% of the world’s forest area; the BRIICS for 42% (FAO, 2016). Forest area within the OECD has remained stable or increased slightly since 1990. Worldwide, however, forest area has been slightly decreasing. Fragmentation, degradation of environmental quality and conversion to other land-use types raise concern in many countries.

In almost all OECD countries for which data are available the volume of the stock of trees has grown since the 1990s (Figure 7.1a). Countries with young, immature forests that grow faster have observed the most important increases. These countries include Korea (+187%), Costa Rica (+161%), Spain (+83%) and Denmark (+79%). Reductions can be observed in countries with vast volumes of wooded biomass, mainly due to reductions in their forest area. These countries include Brazil (-8%), Indonesia (-28%) and Argentina (-13%). Variations in forest resource stocks depend on multiple factors, including deforestation, forest fires, degree of forest maturity, tree species distribution, storms, pests and diseases. Increasing carbon concentrations in the atmosphere and changes in climatic conditions further affect forests in terms of species composition, productivity and functioning of ecosystems.

Figure 7.1. Forest resources are increasingly used and managed in a sustainable way

Note: Data prior to 2010 were not considered.

Source: FAO (2015), “Global Forest Resource Assessments 2015”; OECD (2017a), “Forest resources”, OECD Environment Statistics (database), FAO (2016), “Forestry production and trade”, FAOSTAT (database).

The intensity of use of forest resources is relatively stable

The portion of countries’ forest resource stock available for wood supply varies considerably. About 83% of forests in Europe are commercially exploitable. This ranges from almost 100% in the United Kingdom to 24% in Cyprus (Eurostat, 2016).

At the national level and in forests available for wood supply, most OECD countries appear to use their forest resources in a sustainable way. Most do not over-harvest their forest resources, maintaining the use intensity below 100%. However, there is significant variation among and within countries (Figure 7.1b). Since the 1990s, intensity of forest use has generally increased in 14 of 25 countries in which longer trends are available. This is partly due to the use of wood as biomass for energy, in line with policy objectives for renewables.

The share of forests under sustainable management certification has been increasing

Increasingly, forest owners adopt sustainable management practices. Certification can be useful for encouraging sustainable forestry practices, but it is not strictly necessary for sustainable management. Countries with a relatively intensive use of the resource have the highest prevalence of certified sustainable management (Figure 7.1b). For example, about 90% of forests in Finland and Switzerland are under sustainable management certification. Certified sustainable forest management is much less prevalent in the most forest-rich OECD countries (including the United States, New Zealand and Mexico) and BRIICS economies (Brazil, Russian Federation, India, Indonesia, People’s Republic of China, South Africa). Significant gaps remain worldwide as well. This is partly because certification costs are too expensive for some forest owners and managers.

In most countries, the contribution of forestry to the economy is modest

In seven OECD countries, the commercial exploitation of forest resources contributes significantly to the economy. As such, it generates over 5% of their export value. Elsewhere in the OECD, the forestry and logging sector contributes much less. In most cases, the sector contributes below 0.5% of GDP (Figure 7.1c). The economic weight of forest products is much higher after taking into account the downstream wood-based manufacturing industries. In the EU-28, for example, wood-based industries, though decreasing, represented 7.9% of the manufacturing value added in 2013 (Eurostat, 2016). However, these numbers do not reflect the significant non-market environmental services provided by forest resources. Nor do they account for the vital life-support functions of forest ecosystems on which our economies and well-being depend.

For additional discussion of land cover, see chapter on Land resources.

Measurability and interpretation

The indicators presented in this chapter relate to the following:

  • Forest resource stocks measured as the growing stock of standing trees. It is defined as the volume over bark of all living trees with a minimum diameter of 10 cm at breast height and including the stem from ground level up to a top diameter of 0 cm (excluding branches). The standing volume of growing stock can be converted, by applying biomass expansion factors, into estimates of above and below-ground woody biomass.

  • The intensity of use of forest resources, measured as fellings in percentage of gross increment. Data refer to forests available for wood supply only. The balance between increment and fellings highlights the sustainability of timber production over time. It also reflects current availability and potential for future availability of timber. To be sustainable the fellings over a given period must not exceed the increment over the same period. See also Glossary.

They are complemented by the following:

  • The share of forest area under sustainable management certification (i.e. Forest Stewardship Council, Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, or other international certification).

  • Exports of forest products (e.g. round wood, wood panels, pulp and paper) as percentage of total exports and value added from forestry and logging (ISIC A02) as percentage of GDP.

The indicators on forest resources give insights into quantitative aspects of forest resources and into the forests’ timber supply functions. They present national averages that may conceal important variations among forests. They should be read with information on the “maturity” of the forests and on forest quality (e.g. species diversity, including tree and non-tree species; forest degradation; forest fragmentation).

Data on forest resources and the intensity of their use can be derived from several sources. These include, forest inventories and forest accounts, OECD environmental data and international Forest Resource Assessments (FAO, UNECE) for most OECD countries. Interpretability is limited, however, due to differences in the variables monitored. Historical data often lack comparability or are not available over longer periods.


Eurostat (2016), “Agriculture, forestry and fishery statistics: 2016 edition”,

FAO (2016), “Forestry production and trade”, FAOSTAT (database), (accessed in December 2016).

FAO (2015), “Global Forest Resource Assessments 2015”,

OECD (2017a), “Forest resources”, OECD Environment Statistics (database), (accessed in March 2017).

OECD (2017b), “Green growth indicators”, OECD Environment Statistics (database), (accessed in March 2017).

Further reading

Karousakis, K. (2009), “Promoting Biodiversity Co-Benefits in REDD”, OECD Environment Working Papers, No. 11, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2012), OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction, OECD Publishing, Paris,