The Economy, Land & Climate Podcast

Lina Burnelius on Sweden's forestry model: sustainable or greenwash?

October 08, 2021 Economy Land & Climate Insight Team
The Economy, Land & Climate Podcast
Lina Burnelius on Sweden's forestry model: sustainable or greenwash?
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode Alasdair MacEwen talks to Lina Burnelius of Protect the Forest Sweden about the Swedish forestry model and the threat that industry poses to biodiversity and the survival of ancient Forests.

Alasdair:

Hello and welcome to the Economy, Land and Climate podcast. My name is Alasdair, and in this episode we spoke to Lina Burnelius, Project Lead at Protect the Forest Sweden to ask her exactly what was going on in Swedish forests and forestry, and whether the environment was improving or not.

Lina:

This might be shocking for some, given the fact that the Swedish government and the Swedish forestry industry are so good at clever PR and greenwashing. The reality is that the forest industry in Sweden are alone emitting more greenhouse gas emissions than all of Sweden's terrestrial emission sources are emitting combined.

Alasdair:

I began by asking Lena to summarise the current state of Swedish forests.

Lina:

I would say that forestry in line with the Paris Agreement can be described by following three simple rules. First, which forest can be logged? Second, how? What forestry method should we use on forest land that can be logged? Third; what should we produce of forests? Sweden are systematically and on a daily basis, doing all these three things wrong. They log forest that needs to be protected, they use the most climate environmental harmful method, the so called sustainable forestry model, which in reality is the clear cutting model. And thirdly, the majority of the biomass are turned into products that they burn, and hence emit even more CO2. Maybe I should clarify what the clear cutting model is. That means that you wipe away the whole ecosystem, the ecosystem that stood tall for centuries are wiped away, only a few trees are left at this clear, hence the name clear cutting logging site. And one also have to keep in mind forest is an ecosystem, one that can be protected. It can be restored, but it cannot be replanted. Man can only plant trees, not forests, nature creates forests.

Think of it like this:

a palm oil plantation is not a rainforest. A tulip field is not a meadow, and a pine field is naturally not a forest. In order to meet the Paris Agreement, we need more forests, fewer monocultures and less burning. Sweden's forest industry gives us the opposite of what we need, again, on all three accounts.

Alasdair:

Okay, so that's interesting. So you're actually saying that the amount of carbon that's been released from Swedish forests has actually increased has it then in the last few years?

Lina:

Yes. And now we have very little old growth and natural forests left. We have 23 million hectares of productive forest land below th mountainous area here in Sweden According to Sweden's ow government authority, less tha 3 million out of these 23 ar the last remaining forests tha have not yet been a clear cut These last remaining parts nee to be protected. If also the are clear cut, Sweden wil continuously emit this enormou amount of greenhouse ga emissions due to the fact tha the majority of the greenhous gases are stored in the groun when it comes to this part o the world. Clear cutting fores is therefore very climat harmful. And this is also a fac if these logging companies ar replanting trees at the loggin site after the logging too place. The science is supe clear, clear cut equals a enormous carbon debt, one tha can only partly ever be pai back. And then via harmfu monocultures and first onl decades too late to meet th Paris Agreement. At the sam time, biodiversity will have t pay a price that will tak thousands of years to restore And without safeguarde biodiversity, we will never mee the climate commitments. I addition, the Swedish model as told you also entails burning o biomass for energy and fo transport, a choice that equal even higher emission tha burning coal, for example. Th coming decisive decades that w have in front of us and no w should not continue to burnin coal or any other fossils That's bad enough. Look at wha it has led to. So we canno continue burning fossil fuels But naturally, we cannot shif to burning something even mor harmful, burning forest biomass That would be out of the fir into the frying pan scenario. W need to lower our emissions no go from fossil greenhouse ga emissions to biomass greenhous gas emissions. And now we are i a situation where Sweden or E are, either they are okay wit continuing down this prevailin path and start irreversible chain reaction beyond huma control, or they will actuall start respecting the curren best available science and d all in their power to reduc emissions of all kinds. We nee policies that create a Europ that looks beyond burning. It' that simple

Alasdair:

So are you putting the increased carbon emissions then to, to the clear cutting itself, I mean is that the primary area where emissions are actually increasing in in Swedish forests?

Lina:

It's the system that does all the three rules wrong. They are emitting co2 wherever they can. And if we were to continue like now, the last remaining natural forest outside the few percent of formal protected areas will be gone in less than a decade. And then they will be lost. Even though they need protection, they will be lost via clear cuts that equals a lot of emissions from the logging site. And the majority of the biomass of this beautiful ecosystem have also been turned into products that we burn. So again, all three rounds.

Alasdair:

I know that the Swedish government claims that the forestry model is sustainable, and that they are working on the basis of net growth that means that I suppose if they supposedly add more growth forests than they remove in wood each year, I mean, should we be sceptical of that Could you say something about the actual communities that are claim?

Lina:

Yeah, very much so. We are losing forests in favour of plantation. And you know this by now, in order to meet the Paris Agreement, we need protection of the last remaining forest we need fewer monocultures and less burning. Protection of forest means both protection of all the greenhouse gas emission that is already stored. And at the same time, the old trees works as a greenhouse gas sink, taking ut co2 that is already emit ed from the atmosphere. o we need to protect thes forests. You cannot have fair chance to meet environ ental goals. If you continue to lear cut this last remaining he lthy ecosystems. It ju t won't work. Call it whatever y being impacted by the forestry industry? u like, package it nicely, green ash it however you like. These l st remaining natural fores needs to be protected. In the northern part of Sweden, what the Smi call Spmi, there are many giant logging companies operating. Europe's largest private logging company is Swedish, SCA and Sweden's government owned logging company, Europe's largest, Sveaskog, are also having or claiming that they are owning land, which is up to debate if you're on Indigenous land. And despite Indigenous societies' knowledge on how to care for these forests without losing them, their knowledge of the ecosystems' limits are very much not respected, and the last remaining natural forest and the hanging leaking forests are lost. To give you a figure, over 70% of the forests that support ground lichen which is key for the survival of the reindeer, important for the Smi community are already lost. Like that is figures that is hard to grasp. And at the same time, Indigenous societies only constitute 5% of the world's population, but they safeguard the last 80% of healthy ecosystem that we have left. And that is not a coincidence, their knowledge of what the ecosystem actually copes with, that is the way forward, not the companies' way.

Alasdair:

I'm interested in what you're talking about around industry itself. And I think it'd just be very enlightening for our listeners probably, to know about a little bit more about the industry itself and what it produces and how this kind of economy works. I mean, I don't know how easy that is to explain?

Lina:

Yeah, Sweden are or Swedish companies, they produce tissue and takeaway cups or ecommerce packaging, biofuels, a little bit of wood products, single use paper bioenergy. And as I mentioned, there are giants behind this, Europe's largest logging company, Europe's second largest logging company. And their customers are IKEA, which I think all of you know. And also Essity, Essity is not that famous, but it's the world's second largest soft paper company. But they produce Tempo or [?], or I don't know the consumer brands that is outside of Sweden, but they produce all these single use products, not from renewable sources to a very large amount. It's virgin fibres, like old growth forests that turns into these single use short life products.

Alasdair:

And so what kind of policies, you know, we have what sounds like a very worrying situation in Sweden, and what kind of policies do you think we need to change things?

Lina:

I really hope EU would step up their game, we need EU to do two things. First, they have to make clear cutting of the last remaining old growth forest illegal. There's no way out of that. And secondly, they need to remove forest biomass from the so called renewable energy directive. Otherwise, member states will continue to pay approximately 6.5 billion euros a year for burning our last remaining forests. In other words, if this is not changed, all of us by paying taxes are bankrolling burning, instead of funding really clean, renewable energy sources, it's a disgrace.

Alasdair:

And how confident are you that these kinds of policy changes will be brought about? Do you think that these policy changes are, are possible in the next few years,

Lina:

I think everything is possible. And I put a lot of faith in the knowledge gap. Because people don't know this. People don't know that the Swedish forest model is the worst model, people don't know that the majority of the forest is burnt. And if everyone were to learn that we are burning our forests, I think people will rise up at least that is what I'm seeing in Sweden now. As soon as people know this issue, they tend to care about this issue.

Alasdair:

So the issue is actually becoming more prominent in Sweden.

Lina:

Yes. Nowadays, I would say this is a there's a growing number of people who are talking about this, it's both in the like, on TV and in mainstream media and very vivid on social media and new campaigns arising from all over Sweden, where we like more or less can't stand losing the last remaining forest that we have left. And like losing forest is a growing global problem. Logging companies are expanding into these last remaining precious forest, Indigenous societies are silenced and forced aside, the planet's lungs are, and all its bedrock of life, are like I said before, like, wiped away, like lost on a daily basis. And all this to make room for plantations. Plants planted in order to make these products that I've mentioned before, that harms the climate and the environment. And when I say this stuff, people usually thought about Bolsonaro or the Amazon, but this is the story about Sweden's forestry policy. This is the Swedish logging companies' operation. This is the Swedish forestry model. And people they start to learn that, they know this story and they know it's from Sweden now.

Alasdair:

First fascinating Lina. Just in terms of the work that you're doing now. Are you going to be working for a ban on clear cuts in ancient forests in Sweden in the next few years? Is that a big target for you?

Lina:

Yes, it is. And the European Parliament seem to be keen to follow that issue as well. Like they're also challenging, like clear cutting this last remaining forest that's never been a clear cut. I told you the number before we don't have that much left. And forestry in line with the Paris Agreement and with the EU forest strategy and all other like biodiversity goals and commitments that we already signed. That will mean that we need to protect 30% for Sweden that means not only protecting but stock restoring and then we need to carry out close to nature forestry on the 70% of the land that we can relog, that we can log. And then we need to start respecting Indigenous societies' right to say no to practices that harms their culture. And that is the way forward, protecting enough land. And the same goes with oceans, right? It's important in order to meet the tasks we have ahead of us. We have too much greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And we have a declining variety of life down here on Earth, and we need to meet both these challenges at the same time. I think we should start by treating it as a crisis. It's never once been treated as a crisis. It's about time.

Alasdair:

Our thanks to Lina Burnelius of Protect the Forests, Sweden. If you enjoyed the podcast, please do subscribe or follow us. And we'll hope to have more interesting interviews on climate topics in the very near future. Thanks for listening.