Europe’s economic recovery has to be green

Chronicle by Anna Holmberg

The spread of the Corona virus means worrying times for Member States, businesses and individuals alike. For obvious reasons, focus is set on managing today's challenges, but we must also look forward. Europe needs to regain its economic strength while continuing to be at the forefront on climate and environment policies. To achieve this, the Swedish forest industry supports a green recovery plan, which encourages investment, stimulates growth and job creation and secures a transition to climate neutrality.

Unlike many other parts of Europe, Sweden has not been in complete lock-down. The government's corona strategy has kept day-care and schools open, thus facilitating keeping the economy going, while individuals are encouraged to remain at a safe distance of each other. Thanks to this strategy, the Swedish forest industry has, with a few exceptions, been able to keep production running in Q1. Demand has been especially good for essential products needed in healthcare and in everyday life, such as hygiene products and packaging materials. For sawn timber, sales to the UK market has taken as significant hit, while other markets, such as the domestic do-it-yourself market, has been surprisingly strong.

For the Swedish forest industry, the challenge going forward is to secure demand, not supply. As the industry sells approximately 65 percent of what it produces on the European Single Market, the exit strategies and increased economic activity in other Member States are crucial and decisive. The EU economic recovery plan must therefore truly focus on getting the European economy running again, thereby increasing demand and reopening trade flows. The plan must also stimulate growth over time and encourage investments in Europe, as this this will secure existing jobs and create new ones.

The Swedish forest industry fully endorses a climate neutral EU by 2050. To reach climate neutrality, the society needs to transform how we live, what we eat, what we wear, how we stay healthy and how we travel. Furthermore, we need to assure that fossil resources stay in the ground. Material substitution is indispensable in moving away from today's linear, fossil-based economy to a more bio-based, circular one. The forest industry offers solutions that society needs to transform, such as wood construction, textiles from wood fibres or renewable packaging solutions. These solutions are available today, not ten or twenty years down the road, and thereby conscious citizens are empowered to contribute to climate neutrality. It goes without saying that the EU economic recovery plan must be fully connected with the ambition and goals of the European Green Deal. The recovery plan needs to especially focus on the role that sustainably sourced bio-based materials can play in kick-starting Europe.

The forest industry's value chains are based on biomass from sustainably managed forests. In the future the industry needs more wood, not less and therefore we need to manage our forests actively. It is only through active forest management that an optimal long-term climate mitigation can be secured. By optimizing the contribution of forests, forestry and forest-based value chains to rural development, growth and job-creation, no one is left behind. Objectives on forest protection, biodiversity, wood production and other ecosystem services are not in contradiction, instead they are possible to combine. Sustainably managed forests provide an infinite resource of renewable raw materials and other ecosystem services.

The EU economic recovery plan needs to acknowledge the multiple benefits of forests and forest-based products in relation to climate mitigation, environmental protection, jobs, growth and rural development.