Carbon storage or economic asset? Utilization of Finnish forest divides opinions

Source: Xinhua| 2017-06-12 03:40:44|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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HELSINKI, June 11 (Xinhua) -- While the forest abundant Nordic countries regard the wood resources as a clean energy to invest in, some European politicians and researchers maintain that forests are an excellent way to store carbon and harvesting them reduces the chances of slowing down the greenhouse effect.

Finland has high-profile plans to increase harvesting wood from the current 66 million cubic meters annually to 80 million by 2030. Much of the addition would end up becoming biomass or biological fuel, and the use of fossil fuels would decrease accordingly.

The current debate started last year when Finland protested against plans published by the EU Commission on how to calculate the impact of forestry on the climate change. The core of the issue is the calculation plan, known in the EU jargon as LULUCF, which stands for Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry.

In the draft of the Commission, the carbon sink impact of forests was reduced to much below the Finnish estimate. Finland would be allowed to credit 4.5 million carbon dioxide equivalent tonnes in 2021-2030, while the Finnish view would define the real intake of the forests as 20-30 million tonnes per year.

Brussels based environmental organization Fern has listed, besides Finland, also Sweden, France and Austria as countries that want to "water down the plans of the EU Commission".

Hannah Mowat, an expert from Fern, told Finnish newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet recently that countries that otherwise profile themselves as "front-runners in climate policy work actually for the opposite".

She said the European Union has underlined the need to stop de-forestation worldwide. "Large forest countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and Russia follow the issue closely. It would not be correct if the EU itself calculates the impact of harvesting in an incorrect way", Mowat said.

The debate has escalated of late. In the past week, Finnish Minister for the Environment Kimmo Tiilikainen said that Finland has experienced a long economic recession and the future well-being of Finland relies heavily on the investments in bio-economy and increased use of wood. "EU policies should be fully coherent," he complained.

Finnish scientists have expressed different opinions on the use of forests. Olli Tahvonen, a professor of national economy at Helsinki University, recently criticized the key role of forest biomass in the bioeconomy. Instead, he suggested to increase in the volume of forests as a storage of carbon, and to tax carbon dioxide emissions instead of subsidizing the burning of biomass.

The Finnish climate change panel concluded recently that replacing fossil fuels with forest energy will create climate benefits only if fossil fuels are permanently replaced and forest lands are well maintained and the growth of forests remains unchanged.

It also said that the greatest climate benefit of wood use can be achieved with long-lasting wood-based products that preserve the carbon content. That would mean building houses and furniture, for example.

The situation has triggered anti-EU statements from normally pro-EU politicians.

Finnish MEP Henna Virkkunen told newspaper Kauppalehti that forest should fall under the jurisdiction of national policy making, but admitted that it would be a challenge as forest has such a strong role in climate and energy policies "where European approach is strong".

"Finnish forest grows more than that is being cut down, and the use can be increased," she added.