Climate change negotiations aim to reduce net greenhouse-gas emissions by encouraging direct reductions of emissions and crediting countries for their terrestrial greenhouse-gas sinks. Ecosystem carbon dioxide uptake has offset nearly 10% of Europe's fossil fuel emissions, but not all of this may be creditable under the rules of the Kyoto Protocol. Although this treaty recognizes the importance of methane and nitrous oxide emissions, scientific research has largely focused on carbon dioxide. Here we review recent estimates of European carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide fluxes between 2000 and 2005, using both top-down estimates based on atmospheric observations and bottom-up estimates derived from ground-based measurements. Both methods yield similar fluxes of greenhouse gases, suggesting that methane emissions from feedstock and nitrous oxide emissions from arable agriculture are fully compensated for by the carbon dioxide sink provided by forests and grasslands. As a result, the balance for all greenhouse gases across Europe's terrestrial biosphere is near neutral, despite carbon sequestration in forests and grasslands. The trend towards more intensive agriculture and logging is likely to make Europe's land surface a significant source of greenhouse gases. The development of land management policies which aim to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions should be a priority. © 2009 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.