Northern Sweden puts forward the importance of a regional dimension on EU's forest strategy

In May 2020, a position paper on EU’s new forest strategy was adopted by the Europaforum Northern Sweden, a network which brings together politicians from the four northernmost regions of Sweden. The network emphasizes the importance of considering the large regional variations within the EU when it comes to available forest, forestry and biodiversity. Northern Sweden, as one of the most forest dense regions in Europe, plays a key role in the green transition.

Europaforum Northern Sweden

Europaforum Northern Sweden (EFNS) is a network for politicians at the local and regional levels from Norrbotten, Västerbotten, Jämtland Härjedalen and Västernorrland. EFNS has for the past 20 years provided a meeting place and a knowledge arena for discussion and analysis of the impacts of EU policy on northern Sweden. The overall aim of EFNS is to safeguard the interest of northern Sweden in matters with a clear European perspective.

One area of interest is the EU's forest strategy, a strategic framework aiming to coordinate the EU’s response to the challenges that are faced by the EU forests and the forest sector. The objective of the strategy is to identify the actions needed in order to strengthen sustainable forest management and ensure forest protection, while also improving competitiveness and job creation in particularly rural areas. The current forest strategy, presented by the EU- commission in 2013, is now under revision in order to present an updated strategy for the next budget period 2021-2027. 

The Swedish forest sector in the green transition

With 97 % of the productive land area covered by forest, northern Sweden is one of the most forest dense regions in Europe and considered a key player in the green transition. The biobased products and energy from the forest sector is required to achieve the climate and renewable energy goals in the European Green Deal. Sweden is the world’s third largest exporter of forest industry products, providing biobased products such a green chemicals, bioplastic and transport fuels to an international market. The forest sector also employs up to 22 000 people in northern Sweden, representing a crucial labour sector for the rural economy in northern Sweden. 

Sweden’s forest industries are moreover supported by world leading forest and innovation research, as well as having mechanisms in place to ensure a sustainable forest management and protection. The latter partly refers to the Swedish forestry act which provides a guarantee that the growing stock continuously increases, but also to voluntary depositions of forest and sustainability certification in place. The area of protected forest in Sweden is larger than the entire forest stands in 21 other EU countries. The forest also provides a place for outdoor life, tourism and human recreation. All together, the management and legal regulation of Swedish forests have several positive outputs important to acknowledge, something that EFNS emphasizes. The EFNS stresses that the Swedish active forestry, with an increased and sustainable use of forest biomass, is necessary in order to reach the EU climate and energy goals. 

Northern Sweden’s opinions on the EU’s new forest strategy

EFNS welcomes the EU’s new forest strategy but request a broader view on carbon flows and climate benefits in forestry. One major climate benefit with forest comes through carbon sequestration, meaning that growing forests absorb increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the trees and the ground. However, the EFNS stresses that it is a growing and cultivated forest that provide the best climate benefit (growth will over time slow down and so will carbon assimilation, and by time this forest will become a slow carbon emitter). EFNS therefore argues that if an analysis of the carbon cycle of a forest is limited to a short time period or a single forest stand, the interaction over time and space might be overlooked and result in misleading conclusions. EFNS stresses that when assessing forest management practices impact on biodiversity, a landscape perspective over a longer time period should be applied. 

EFNS also suggests that the Swedish forestry act can be used as a source for inspiration in the development of a new European forest strategy. The act stipulates that forest management shall integrate extensive environmental considerations while giving production goals and environmental goals equal status. Included in this, you find the obligation to take into consideration interests such as cultural heritage and reindeer husbandry. The conflicting goals in forest bioeconomy and sustainable forest are to some extent also mitigated through the increased forest growth given by the act. Overall, the EFNS argues that the role of forestry for a green transition needs to be better recognized in new strategies and initiatives in order to create a more coherent view of sustainable forestry. 

Finally, the EFNS emphasizes the need of a regional dimension in the EU’s new forest strategy. Greater reward should be given to already sustainable regions and industries. EFNS suggests that initiatives which strengthen the forest multifunctional values should be promoted, not least when it contributes to a shift to biobased products and bioenergy meeting the objectives of the European Green Deal.  

Read the position paper by EFNS here.

/Elin Johnson

Sustainability policy

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