On the 1st of December, the EOS Secretariat has participated in the conference Sustainable Forest Biomass in the light of COP21 (Paris) held at the European Parliament, which gathered high-level policymakers, state forest management representatives and other stakeholders, who discussed the potential of European forests and forest-based products to be at the core of the EU climate change and energy agenda, focusing in particular on the solutions and approaches implemented by state forest management organizations.
European forests and forest-based products have a great potential to contribute to climate change mitigation. Recent research indicates that each year Europe’s forests and harvested wood products, including their substitution effect (using biomass to replace fossil fuels or other highly energy consuming materials), compensate approximately 13 % of the EU’s total CO₂ emissions. Bioenergy currently represents 60% of the EU’s total consumption of renewables. The majority of bioenergy is generated from biomass from sustainably managed forests and can be used for heating, electricity generation and transport fuels. Currently, woody biomass from forests and residues is the largest source of renewables in Europe and its share is expected to grow by 2030.
The Paris Agreement sets out a plan to effectively decarbonize economies by mid-century. State forests are well positioned to be at the core of the EU climate change agenda and can play a leading role in the development of a vibrant European bioeconomy.
The event was co-hosted by MEP Pavel Poc (CZ, S&D), Chair of the European Parliament Intergroup on “Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development” and MEP Jytte Guteland (SE, S&D), Member of the Committee of Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. The two MEPs gave the initial speeches. Mr Poc centered his speech on the fact that forests provide not only wood production but also important societal services, and they are an important climate regulator and source of biodiversity. When legislating, legislators should bear this in mind. Mrs Gutteland, instead, showcased the Swedish model, emphasizing that it allows both protecting and profiting from forests (the carbon sink provided by Swedish forests is not expected to decline with time). She cautioned, however, against adopting one-size-fits-all policies, as every country has its own particularities.
Eustafor President Per-Olof Wedin stressed that forests have an important role to play when it comes to achieve the post-2020 European climate and energy targets. Indeed, forest biomass is crucial to increase the share of renewable energy across Europe, while forests act as a carbon sink. The condition underlying these concepts is that biomass must be sustainable. From the point of view of the forest, no extra regulation is needed to guarantee the sustainability of biomass.
The audience was then addressed by a video message delivered by Phil Hogan (European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development). Mr Hogan expects forests to greatly contribute to be decarbonisation of the European economy, provided that the development of forest biomass is done in a smart and sustainable way.
Giulio Volpi from DG Energy also emphasized that bioenergy will have to play an important role in the European energy mix. Unlike other energy sources, biomass is abundant in Europe, which is consistent with the objective to secure safe supplies. Bioenergy development, in his view, has also a key role in terms of employment and economic development in rural areas, climate protection and innovation. Also, he briefly discussed about the revised Renewable Energy Directive: the main aim for 2030 is to make sure that Europe will have a 27% share in renewable energy sources on total energy consumption (2020: 20%). Moreover, to achieve this, there will not be national binding targets, but only target is at EU level. No sector specific targets either are foreseen. An EU cap for gradually reducing the share of food-based biofuels by 2030 is also implemented. Regarding biomass production, improved sustainability criteria for agriculture biomass are introduced, together with new sustainability criteria for forest biomass.
Marcus Lindner of the European Forest Institute stressed that at present there is no clear scientific consensus on the hotly-debated topic of bioenergy carbon neutrality. He also reminded that the climate impact of bioenergy is critical for the EU. He argued, however, that it looks difficult to meet long-term climate targets without conspicuously relying on bioenergy. Impact of bioenergy on net greenhouse gases emission savings is context- and feedstock-specific because many important factors vary across regions and time. There can be trade-offs between carbon sequestration, storage and biomass production – and between short-term and long-term climate objectives. He argues for policies where promotion of bioenergy and other non-fossil energy options lead to fossil fuel displacement, rather than competition among non-fossil options. As stated by MEP Guteland, he agrees that one-size-fits-all policies are not optimal.
The conference was concluded by speeches delivered by Olof Johansson (Sveaskog, Sweden), Daniel Szórád (CEO, Lesy České Republiky), Pentti Hyttinen (CEO, Metsähallitus, Finland) and Roland Kautz (Österreichische Bundesforste, Austria) who gave examples of how state forests promote sustainable forest management and a greater use of wood, particularly to replace other resources and products which are detrimental to the climate.