Towards a comprehensive strategy for the EU wood industry

The EESC’s Consultative Commission on Industrial Change (CCMI) is preparing a new Initiative Opinion on “Towards a comprehensive strategy for the EU wood industry”.

“Our forests are more than carbon sinks but are a vital source of raw materials to our bio-based industries. The pulp and paper industries and other bio-based industries are a crucial part of Europe’s modern industrial fabric. Bio-based materials play an integral role in greening many of the 14 industrial ecosystems included in the updated EU Industrial Strategy. A major advantage of bio-based materials lies in their potential use for substitution of fossil-based materials in various industries, including energy, construction, packaging or textiles.

A strong EU-based bio materials industry can also contribute towards achieving Europe’s critical raw materials resilience and strategic autonomy. The industry itself has called for better recognition of its potential as an enabler for sustainability in key EU policies, including the EU Industrial strategy, the EU Green Deal, and the EU Chemicals strategy. Also, training and re-skilling Europe’s workforce to be able to work in emerging bio-based value-chains, and ensuring a quality of jobs is crucial for a socially fair and green transition in Europe. But diversifying bio-based value-chains to meet the challenges of environmental sustainability calls for more holistic policy in industries, according to the 2022 EU Bioeconomy Strategy Progress Report. The Fit for 55 legislative package proposes a route for European forestry-based and bio-industries within the European Green Deal. The proposal prioritises carbon storage in forests over the production of renewable raw materials for materials and bioenergy. However, industrial and sectoral actors have raised concerns that to alleviate climate problems, ultimately fossil emissions need to be reduced, and the most effective solution to this is to replace fossil-based products and energy with renewable alternatives – that is, with forest or agricultural products – so-called substitution. It is concretely about increasingly replacing energy-intensive concrete and steel with wood raw materials, plastic packaging with paper packaging, oil-based textiles such as polyester with textile fibers of cellulose and coal and oil with bioenergy.

These policy choices involve significant trade-offs and will have major implications for those employed in the bio-based and forestry products industries and the other industries concerned in Europe. These implications are little addressed in the EU’s Green Deal legislative initiatives and policies, but they merit investigation and analysis. Therefore, the own-initiative opinion would consider the industrial policy and employment dimensions of these forestry initiatives for forest-based and other concerned industries. This is a crucial moment in terms of the political decisions and policy direction for these industries, in relation to the Fit for 55 package revising climate and energy targets and policies, the new EU forestry strategy and the development of transition pathways for energy intensive industries. It can also contribute to EU decision- and policy-making which would ensure that the EU’s bio-based industries remain international competitive, maintain their reputation as a producer of high quality products, its capacity for technological innovation and its skilled labour force. The opinion will also provide the possibility to discuss this issue with wider civil society stakeholders.

In this context, the own-initiative opinion – to be developed in close cooperation by CCMI and EESC’s NAT section – will aim at developing a vision for a more comprehensive approach to the EU wood industry and provide a roadmap for future action.

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