Two Views on Forestry and Climate Friendliness

Environment - February 6, 2024

In January the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, visited northern Europe where the forests stretch for miles and miles and miles around. She hadn’t a clue about how sustainable the forest farmers have worked for many generations to create regrowth and thus capture carbon dioxide.

The visit was a result of continental Europeans think trees only grows in small parks and therefore should be protected from being cut down. But in northern Europe have some of the largest forest areas in the world.

The EU’s climate legislation states that Sweden must increase the net storage of carbon dioxide in forests, land and wood products. To archive this, Brussels think a stop of felling of forest would manage that. The two Nordic prime ministers of Sweden and Finland point out the importance of the forest being used as it is now, including a high level of felling. Products from the forest can replace other materials, like plastic. This ensures that things that are green, environmentally and climate-friendly are manufactured.

The EU sees the forest primarily as a carbon sink that stores carbon dioxide when it grows and is allowed to stand for a long time without being felled. For Sweden and Finland, this would mean a lower level of felling.

We hear often about the importance of biological diversity, presence of older forest, dead wood, and storage of carbon, but seldom of the importance of keeping and maintaining the forest which is the economic driving forces behind the owners of forests.

Forestry resembles farming society

The Nordic Prime Ministers told the Commission that the forestry is under heavy pressure from the EU’s energy, climate and environmental legislation. The forest’s storage of carbon dioxide is mentioned as an example of a forest function that is “maintained in the best way through national practice and expertise”, they told Ursula von der Leyen.

The Swedish and Finnish governments do not want a strong European regulatory framework that limits how the forest sector should act.

Owners of forests are in a large part private individuals living on their land. That there are many private forest land owners, such as the over 300,000 in Sweden’s case, is unusual in EU countries, except in Sweden, Finland and to a small extent in a few other EU countries. In Sweden, it is a remnant of farming society with self-sustainability where the forest provided firewood and timber as well as having domestic animals in it.

Small forest owners often have the forest as the main source of income to finance the purchase of things that are needed to run their farm and business and which are recorded in their accounting. This is even though most forest owners have other income as well, from gainful work in a field other than that with a forest connection.

Two ways to look at forests

There are two different approaches to how to consider the forest’s climate benefit. Member countries with large areas of forest and hundred years of experience in forestry believe that the forest provides the best climate benefits by growing and supplying raw materials that can replace fossil products. Researchers call the climate benefit that then arises the substitution effect.

The other point of view that the EU in Brussels is on, means that the forest provides better climate benefits if it is allowed to remain. That would increase the storage of carbon dioxide. In this way, it is also possible to preserve biological diversity in forests with high natural values.

Make forest farmers out of income

Prohibiting logging would mean a major encroachment on property rights. The forest farmers have planted and managed their forests for generations. The forest has been their asset that has grown in step with the trees. They would be without income if they were not allowed to harvest the forest when it can be harvested.

The EU Commission will find it difficult to get through regulations that more forest should not be felled to increase the capture of carbon dioxide. It would be seen as pure communism if the state would forbid farmers to get access to their assets.

Governments in Sweden and Finland will oppose it. They have several constituents who depend on the forest industry directly or indirectly. It would be politically disastrous to accept regulations that may come from the EU to reduce logging to increase carbon capture.