Article: The EU forest-based value chain, a strategic resource for a sustainable future

Oct 8, 2020

What if consumers were empowered to make the EU green recovery happen by choosing truly green and circular products, ask Jori Ringman and Viveka Beckeman.

We already see a broad public engagement for climate action, an increased demand for fossil-free products – and they’re here, today! For buildings, furniture, packaging, hygiene and medical products, clothes and much more: products made from sustainably sourced wood are available and affordable while bringing a direct climate benefit.

The substitution effect – keeping fossil resources in the ground by offering a renewable product instead – will have an immediate and significant climate mitigation effect as demonstrated by the recent Cepi study “Climate effect of the forest-based sector in the European Union”.

Today plastic packaging has three times larger CO2 footprint than paper; in 30 years from now, plastics will be already seven times worse than paper and board! Already now, one-quarter of all plastics could be readily replaced by paper and board. This is untapped potential for substitution. And not the only one!

If there is a climate emergency that can’t wait, then why are we continuing to pump up fossil CO2 from the ground to the atmosphere while we have the better solution available on the market already?

The forest and forest-based industries bring three benefits – sequestration, storage and substitution of carbon.

As a forest-based industry, we have a strategic interest in keeping healthy and growing forests in Europe. Our renewable and recyclable wood-based fibre solutions are made in Europe from European sustainably growing forest stocks.

Harvesting wood in the EU is less than the annual growth: growing stock and carbon storage is increasing every year. Sustainable forest management ensures the long term vitality of the resource and supports the achievement of climate neutrality by 2050.

The EU wants to become the first carbon neutral continent by 2050.

Our industry has a strategic interest in being a leader in that race but respecting the owners of European forests, we don’t claim the forest sink for ourselves as we will become truly fossil-free.

If the EU policy, on the other hand, expects forest sink to compensate for certain “difficult-to-decarbonise” sectors, it would be counterproductive, inefficient and far from fair.

Forests are not threatened by sustainable forest-based bioeconomy but by the other sectors. And most of all: by climate change. The more fossil material we take from underground, the harder the adaptation will become for forests – shaking the foundations of the policy.

Most fossil-intensive value chains are global, beyond the scope of EU policies. Allowing for continued fossil production forces the society to choose slow, less optimal and more expensive mitigation tools, while avoiding those emissions in the first place with low-carbon alternatives would immediately tackle the root cause.

The policy choice is likely to result in calls for higher protection of the forest as a sink. This would risk the availability of sustainable wood for the forest-based ecosystem and – in the worst case – even reversing the substitution towards more fossil-intensive production.

The post COVID-19 economic slowdown could help us design a more inclusive and coherent approach to forests both for climate and human well-being.

Green recovery also means supporting growth and ensuring continued consumption that creates value for society.

Forest-based economic ecosystems contribute to green growth and jobs especially in rural areas while ensuring wood and many vital ecological services. Forest-based industries employ 3.5 million workers (10% of EU manufacturing jobs).

One in five manufacturing companies in the EU is in forest-based industries. The economic value of wood encourages forest owners to manage their forests with a long-term, sustainable perspective.

The sector promptly reacts to emergency situations like storms, insect outbreaks or fires, helping to restore forest ecosystems, draining wood from affected areas and minimizing risks of future pests and diseases while contributing to reducing economic losses of private forest owners.

We expect the revamped Forest Strategy to have a holistic approach and to acknowledge the multifunctionality of forests and their crucial role in supplying raw material to the forest-based industry.

The forest value chain – forests and forest-based industry – is a unique strategic resource and asset for Europe in combatting climate change and building a sustainable future.

The consumers are looking for alternatives and would shift to low-carbon products coming from a renewable resource.

The forest-based value chain holds the keys to a sustainable European economy, enabled by a resilient industry of the future.

See the full article published in EURACTIV here.