The European pulp and paper industry welcomes the two recent announcements on forests and climate made by global leaders, who are currently gathered at the COP26 in Glasgow. It already supports these commitments with concrete action, working hand in hand with the EU Commission’s services, and building on its track record for reforestation, sustainable forest management and the promotion of sustainable forestry practices worldwide. These actions could eventually be at the root of the development of a new and more sustainable industrial model, based on the substitution of carbon-intensive products for more climate friendly ones. Europe’s forests systemic importance to the EU’s global climate ambitions should not be underestimated.
On Sunday, G20 leaders released a declaration which included a statement of support to the aspirational goal of planting 1 trillion trees, notably with the stated objective to “create new carbon sinks”, thus increasing the Earth capacity to pull climate change enhancing gas from the atmosphere. Yesterday, leaders of more than 100 countries gathered at the COP26 pledged to end deforestation by 2030. This included Brazil and China, for the first time in such an international commitment.
While both announcements essentially reinforce pre-existing agreements by expanding their geographical reach, these are welcome steps in the global fight against deforestation, and towards an economic model that is compliant with the goals of the Paris Agreement. A consistent international policy framework for the forest-based sector based on these new commitments, and linking a ban on deforestation with sustainable forest management and reforestation, would enable a transition towards a fossil-free economy where forests could play a major part.
The pulp and paper industry greatly contributes to managing European forests sustainably. The forest owners forming the backbone of this ‘forest economy’ are supporting the growth of the European forests by 612 million m³ annually and these forests in turn remove the equivalent of 10% of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The main source of deforestation has, from a statistical standpoint, nothing to do with pulp and paper. Deforestation is, for 80% of it, driven by the expansion of farming, which typically results in an increase in global greenhouse gas emissions. By comparison, forest extracted fibre-based products hold the potential to replace CO2-intensive materials with alternatives that are good for the climate. Such products include many substitutes to well-established everyday items made of plastics or cotton, from clothing to packaging, hygiene products and medical applications. Moreover, 67% of the production in the pulp and paper industry is based on recycled material, further contributing to ‘closing carbon cycles’ and keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere.
However, in the face of the global challenge that is climate change, efforts at EU-level only are not enough. While forest cover is increasing in Europe, other continents suffer from the effects of deforestation. Which is why the pulp and paper industry is also active in promoting sustainable forest management practices throughout the world, and supports the European Commission’s efforts to act against the import of commodities to the EU that are associated with deforestation.
“The whole forest economy is a sector where the basic principle is, and has been for the past 300 years, to extract less than nature provides,” says Jori Ringman, Director General at Cepi, the Brussels-based confederation of the pulp and paper industry. “The most recent pledges by the international community are directly connected to the EU’s ambition of enhancing of the carbon sink function of forests whilst optimising the overall contribution of forest by harvesting and using wood in climate-friendly products. These are steps in the right direction.”