Crowded seminar on sustainable bioenergy

Seminarium i EU-parlamentet
Photo: Sophia Bengtsson

The European Commission has presented a proposal to introduce sustainability criteria for bioenergy usage. What is sustainable bioenergy? And what impact could these criteria’s have on the future use of biomass and European forest management? These questions was up for discussion when The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, the Swedish Forest Industries Federation and the Federation of Swedish Farmers arranged a seminar on December 7th in the European Parliament.

MEP Christofer Fjellner, the host of the seminar, was moderator of the discussion among the invited speakers.

Mårten Larsson from the Swedish Forest Industries Federation introduced the seminar by talking about biomass from a system perspective. He explained how different parts of a tree is used for many different purposes, from lumber, pulp and residues to bioenergy. Larsson also discussed the vision; the Swedish forest sector driving growth in the world's bioeconomy.

– Think about it as a bank account. If you have 100 euros, you have 5 euros in revenue that you can use every year without removing money from the account. If you have 200 euros you get 10 euros every year. The more forest you have, the more you can use sustainable.

Let the states decide about their forests 

When Fjellner asked about Larssons key concerns, the answer was immediate: 

– Don't regulate and put a roof on forestharvest. Let the member states decide how much forest that can be harvested sustainably.

Emma Berglund, from the European forest owners, continued by raising the forest owner's perspective and put forward three clear messages:

– Europe's forests are sustainable, energy demand does not drive harvest and bioenergy does not put European forests at risk.

Carbon Neutrality - a hard nut to crack

To understand the carbon neutrality principles Gustaf Egnell, researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, presented the European Forest Institute report "Forest biomass, carbon neutrality and climate change mitigation". He explained how carbon neutrality is a debated topic and that there is no clear consensus among the scientists.

– When someone presents a result, you always have to ask; what assumptions are made in this? When assessing bioenergy climate impact the timeframe, scope and how you compare biomass to fossil fuels affects the conclusions.

Egnell finished by stating that he don't want the commissions proposal to create policies where renewable energy's starts competing against each other instead of outcompete fossil fuels.

The Commission's proposal - phasing out first generation biofuels

Giulio Volip from the European commission introduced the Commission's proposal by underlining that they want to create incentives for efficient use of biomass from the forest. It also became clear that the Commission wants to phase out the first generation of biofuels, and also create clear incentives to promote advanced biofuels.

– The commission has a pragmatic approach and have therefore presented sustainability criteria's as a minimum level of responsibility. There are many uncertainties concerning biomass sustainability and the Commission has recognized that in our work, Volpi explained.

Anders Wijkman, President of Club of Rome, responded to the Commissions statements from Mr Volpi and stressed that the Commission needs to be careful with the transaction costs and not put too much costs, regulations and administrative burden on small actors on the market. Wijkman also lifted the fact that the bio based economy is a pillar in Sweden's Climate strategy. Seeing the forest as a carbon sink is short term, if you look at 20, 30 or 40 years, it is better for the environment to use the forest. The best we can do is build more in wood, it is good for the climate, easy to use and stylish.

– Sweden is covered to 65% of forests and therefore we also have a long tradition of taking care of forest. The approach on forest management is divided in Europe, Wijkman said.

"Trees are like teenagers"

During the discussion Magnus Kindbom from the Federation of Swedish Farmers also explained the environmental benefits of managed forests and how the forests contribute to mitigate climate change.

-Trees are like teenagers, they eat most CO2 in their growing stage! Older forest doesn't contribute as much, Kindbom stated.

Christofer Fjellner summed up the discussion with one last warning:
-We have to be careful so we don't regulate biomass to hard and fail to reach the main goal, tackle climate change and phase out fossil fuels.