Increased 2030 EU climate ambition

Success depends on going beyond energy transformation

The European Commission proposes a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target by 2030 of at least 55 percent as well as enshrining that target in the 2050 Climate Law. For the increased ambition to be reached, the Commission must go beyond its present energy transformation focus. The climate benefit of choosing renewable materials and bioenergy must be fully acknowledged and encompassed.

"The Swedish forest industry supports an ambitious EU climate policy. We were therefore thrilled to hear the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, explain the climate benefit of building in wood in her State of the Union Address on 16 September. We were expecting to find the same positive message in the Commission's 2030 Climate Target Plan, but so far we haven't, even though a thorough evaluation of the extensive Impact Assessment remains", says Anna Holmberg, Head of the Brussels office for the Swedish Forest Industries.

The climate benefit of renewable materials is missing

The Commission continues to mainly focus on transforming Europe's energy use.

"This is of course important, as CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. To reach 2030 and 2050 climate targets, this focus is, however, not enough. When developing its policy, the Commission must also acknowledge and encompass the total climate benefit to be achieved by substituting fossil materials with renewable ones. To exemplify, when defining ambitions for the building sector, the Commission's focus is on reducing the energy consumption of a building, instead of addressing its total climate impact. That impact is to a high degree dependent on the materials used for renovating or new builds, for instance if you choose to use more wood and less concrete", says Anna Holmberg, Head of the Brussels office for the Swedish Forest Industries.

European forests and forest-based products are essential

According to results recently commissioned by Cepi, the Confederation of European Paper Industries, forests and forest-based products remove a net of 806 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents* annually. This corresponds to 20 percent of all fossil emissions in the European Union.

"By not acknowledging the total climate benefit generated by the forest-based sector, the 2030 revised target is at risk. Instead, the Commission has a too strong focus on forests as carbon sinks. As stated in the Cepi report, the carbon storage in products and material substitution are equally important to mitigate climate change. In addition, by unilaterally relying on forests as carbon sinks, risks are increased, as aging forests are more susceptible to damages from, for example, pests and storms. Furthermore, the Swedish forest industry knows from experience that it is active forest management, which over time maintains and enhances the carbon sink", says Magnus Berg, Head of Industrial Policy at the Swedish Forest Industries.

Fossil dependency without bioenergy

As stated above, the Commission proposal has a strong focus on transforming the Union's energy use. The Commission aims for more renewable energy, but clearly plays down the role of bioenergy.

"According to the Commission, the direction should be to minimize the use of whole trees to produce energy, to which we generally agree, but having that said, it appears to us that the Commission lacks knowledge about forest-based value chains. It is mainly side streams from forests and forest industries that are used for energy. While the main value added is generated by products for construction, packaging and textiles, forest bioenergy is an important secondary product for generation of electricity, heat and transportation fuels. Without this bioenergy, we will instead increase our dependence on oil, coal and gas and thereby also our greenhouse gas emissions", says Mårten O Larsson, Head of Bioenergy Policy at the Swedish Forest Industries.

As a result of the announced increased 2030 climate ambition, the Commission will by June 2021 propose amendments to relevant EU energy and climate legislation, such as the LULUCF Regulation, the EU ETS Directive and the Renewable Energy Directive. Concerning the latter, the Commission has already announced that it intends to revise the sustainability criteria for forest biomass.

"We do not support a revision of the criteria at this time. After all, existing criteria are not even implemented in Member State legislation yet and it took some six to seven years to agree on these criteria. For our members, a revision in 2021 would severely hamper their long-term planning and this could in turn have a negative impact on future investment decisions in bioenergy facilities. Furthermore, defining criteria is closely related to forest policy, which is Member State competence", concludes Mårten O Larsson.

* A carbon dioxide equivalent or CO2 equivalent, is a metric measure used to compare the emissions from various greenhouse gases on the basis of their global-warming potential, by converting amounts of other gases to the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide with the same global warming potential.