European forests are intensively exploited for wood products, yet they also form a sink for carbon. European forest inventories, available for the past 50 years, can be combined with timber harvest statistics to assess changes in this carbon sink. Analysis of these data sets between 1950 and 2000 from the EU-15 countries excluding Luxembourg, plus Norway and Switzerland, reveals that there is a tight relationship between increases in forest biomass and forest ecosystem productivity but timber harvests grew more slowly. Encouragingly, the environmental conditions in combination with the type of silviculture that has been developed over the past 50 years can efficiently sequester carbon on timescales of decades, while maintaining forests that meet the demand for wood. However, a return to using wood as biofuel and hence shorter rotations in forestry could cancel out the benefits of carbon storage over the past five decades.