Bioeconomy strategic building block to reach net-zero emissions

To reap the full benefits of bioeconomy is one of the strategic building blocks to reach net-zero emissions in EU by 2050, according to the European Commission.

Ahead of the upcoming COP24 in Katowice, the European Commission on 28 November presented its long-term strategy for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy.

– We fully support the Commission's ambitious target to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We share the Commission's insight that urgency is needed in climate change mitigation. Furthermore, we agree that the important transition we have ahead of us cannot be at the expense of EU industry competitiveness, instead it must be enhanced, says Anna Holmberg, Director Energy Policy at the Swedish Forest Industries Federation (SFIF).

Instant effect on climate

According to the strategy, one of seven main strategic building blocks essential to achieve net-zero emissions is to reap the full benefits of bioeconomy. Growing the bioeconomy will be decisive in achieving the target and SFIF is happy to see that the Commission shares this view.

– We welcome that product substitution is so clearly highlighted. To use sustainable biomass to produce products, which substitute carbon intensive materials, instantly creates a large climate benefit. In the in-depth analysis accompanying the strategy, it is defined that the use of wood products could reduce emissions by 1,5-3,5 tons of CO2 per ton of product. Moreover, a wood construction can store carbon for decades or centuries, according to Mårten Larsson, deputy Director General at SFIF.

An increased understanding of the forest

While putting bioeconomy at focus, the strategy also presents a deep understanding for forest dynamics and the need for active sustainable forest management and afforestation.

– It is clear that the Commission's insights on active forestry and the contribution of the forest bioeconomy to the climate have increased in recent years. In the first draft of the LULUCF regulation, a few years ago, the forest was looked upon primarily as a carbon sink. Now the Commission instead describes the long-term risks with a restraining approach, such as reduced growth and risk of damages, and concludes that this over time would lead to a stagnating sink, says Mårten Larsson.

The strategy concludes that active, sustainable forest management and afforestation are very important to mitigate climate change and reach the 2050 objective. Furthermore, forest management can supply ecosystem services such as biodiversity, reduced risk for erosion and flooding and contributes positively to water flows and water quality. At the same time, land is a finite resource, so there are natural limitations on how large areas that can be afforested without negatively effecting food production.

There is no room for free riders

To reach net-zero emissions by 2050, deep societal and economic transformations touching every sector of the economy are required. At the same time, the strategy defines carbon sinks in forests as a way to offset emissions from sectors with residual emissions.

– On this item, the strategy is sending mixed messages, since it sounds as if some sectors of society can contribute much lesser than others. According to our opinion, every sector must contribute to the very best of its ability and there is no room for any free riders. It cannot be the task of the forest sector to store emissions that other sectors are not addressing, concludes Anna Holmberg.

With this strategy, the Commission defines the direction of travel of EU climate and energy policy, but it does not launch any new policies. Neither does the Commission revise the EU 2030 targets of cutting emissions by 40%, but states that targets in recently agreed policies, such as ETS, EED and RED, are estimated to achieve around -45% by 2030.

During 2019, the Commission invites relevant stakeholders to debate the strategy and by early 2020, the EU ambition is to adopt and submit an ambitious strategy to the UNFCCC as requested under the Paris Agreement.