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Forests not the "golden egg" to compensate decarbonisation non-delivery in other industrial sectors – CEPI

In her first state of the European Union address, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen revealed the Commission's proposed increase to 55 percent the EU emissions reduction target by 2030. The Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) acknowledges the new reduction target is both economically feasible and beneficial for Europe with the adequate policies in place but warns against using forests as a "golden egg" to compensate for decarbonisation non-delivery in other sectors.

Freshly harvested forest fibre (spruce pulpwood in the foreground and sawlogs in the background) awaiting collection to begin its transformation process into sawn wood, pulp, paper, biochemical and bioenergy products. The harvested site will be replanted for the next generation forest cycle.

Freshly harvested forest fibre (spruce pulpwood in the foreground and sawlogs in the background) awaiting collection to begin its transformation process into sawn wood, pulp, paper, biochemical and bioenergy products. The harvested site will be replanted for the next generation forest cycle.

On September 17, 2020, the European Commission presented its plan to reduce EU greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, in a bid to bring the EU on a balanced pathway to reaching climate neutrality by 2050.

This target is the central piece of the EU’s 2030 Climate Target Plan, together with the revised Emission Trading System (ETS) and state aid rules. The Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI), the European umbrella trade association that via 18 national associations represents 500 companies operating 895 mills across Europe, acknowledges the 55 percent target and notes that the new reduction target is both “economically feasible and beneficial” for Europe, with the adequate policies in place.

The target is the most significant milestone in the EU’s drive to realise its goal of becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral continent by 2050. It is a challenging transition for any industrial sector but, if achieved, it will impact the food Europeans eat, the cars they drive, and the homes they live in. Our sector contributes to all that with green and resilient solutions made in Europe with European technology for European consumers, said Jori Ringman, Director-General of CEPI.

According to Jori Ringman, CEPI and its members are already fully committed to the objective of a climate-neutral Europe by 2050, as reflected in its CEO initiative published last November and the European Green Deal.

Our aim is to be the most competitive and sustainable solutions provider for a climate-neutral Europe in 2050. Building on our performance so far, we are on a trajectory to further reduce our fossil emissions while increasing and diversifying the production of our bio-based goods in Europe. Our industry has a strategic interest in being at the forefront of the decarbonisation efforts. In this race, the availability of finance will be critical. But with a supportive and stable regulatory framework, we are confident that we can reduce our emissions while increasing production in Europe and creating skilled jobs in Europe, said Jori Ringman.

A modern pulp mill is a central part of the forest-based industrial ecosystem that contributes to keeping forests healthy.

Ringman noted that finding innovative breakthrough technologies will be key to further reducing other emissions to water and air towards the Zero Emission objective and tap into industrial symbiosis to increase circularity and extract valuable resources in those emissions.

Our industry is also a central part of the EU forest-based industries, an industrial ecosystem which contributes to keeping forests healthy by fostering their ability to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, supporting the regeneration of harvested areas, safeguarding biodiversity, and preserving valuable habitats as a part of active and timely Sustainable Forest Management. We also actively contribute to effective afforestation and reforestation, Jori Ringman said.

Forests to have and to hold

The European Green Deal is based on the idea that it needs to preserve the carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration and sink ability of forest as well as biodiversity but still with the possibility of harvesting wood for economic uses.

EU’s sustainably managed forests can play a bigger role in enabling the Green Deal in many policy areas while at the same time the annual carbon stock in European forests increases.

Forests should not be seen as the golden egg to compensate for the lack of emission reductions in other sectors that are not delivering on their decarbonisation agenda – and also cannot claim the ownership of the goose. It is counterproductive, unfair, and morally questionable. Having import-reliant sectors’ emissions compensated by European forests risks exporting environmental degradation and importing loss of reliance and sustainability. Possible inclusion of agricultural non-CO2 emissions to the current LULUCF sector bears that risk, too, Jori Ringman cautioned.

The carbon stock in European forests is huge. According to the European Commission, the annual emissions of all motor vehicles in the EU are equal to only 0.03 percent of the stock. And the stock keeps growing with the sink that is currently equal to 10 percent of all EU fossil emissions.

The sink, the rate of increasing the stock, can vary year on year but the stock has been increasing consistently in modern Europe.

Any concerns regarding the declining carbon sink should be a signal for other sectors to accelerate their own emission reductions, as the forest-based sector has done consistently in the past decades, not a signal to hinder sustainable forest management and wood mobilisation. Passive measures like traditional forest preservation will not suffice, added Ringman.

Need to recognize the value of fossil substitution effect

While climate change will indeed bring risks for the sink in terms of pests and fires, increased demand for wood does not, as sustainable forest management (SFM) ensures not more is harvested than can be sustainably supplied.

For example, the recent spread of the bark beetle in Central and North European forests indicates that relying solely on the forest sink is a risky business. Likewise, almost as big as the forest sink in Europe, the contribution of the sectors’ low-carbon products is significant.

A forest harvest site in Sweden. According to the plaintiffs, subsidies (in the EU) for biomass are increasing demand and driving increased logging of forests in Europe and North America.

Although the new 2030 plan rightly establishes a clear link between the 2030 proposed target and the Circular Economy Action Plan, CEPI notes that it misses taking into account the substitution effect thanks to forest-based products.

We believe that sustainable choices can be encouraged by the reliable information provided, which should be the focus of the upcoming Sustainable Product Policy Initiative. CEPI calls for improved market access for recyclable and bio-based products, through a coherent product policy framework that allows for sustainable consumer choices. CEPI calls for coherence with the upcoming legislative proposal on Green Claims. We look forward to engaging with EU policy-makers to unlock the potentials of our sector in delivering carbon reductions and value-added to the European economy. EU funding for recovery and fair transition should identify the pulp and paper industry as a truly green, digital, and resilient part of the EU economy, in a good position to contribute to the sustainable recovery of the fourteen selected ecosystems and the EU economy as a whole, ended Jori Ringman.

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