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Photos from three de-registered woodland key habitats at Gällsjöberget and Högvedsberget in Sweden. Many red-listed species have been found in these valuable forests. Photos: Elin Götmark and Helena Björnström.

Sweden’s last remaining unprotected old-growth forests are under immediate pressure due to the government’s poor management of the state-owned forests. A new report shows that the state-owned forest company Sveaskog de-registers woodland key habitats, which are crucial for red-listed forest species. These forests are now at risk of being clear-cut. At the same time a campaign organized by all Swedish environmental organizations has delivered a petition signed by 45,000 Swedes, demanding that the Swedish state changes Sveaskog's instructions.

"Sweden likes to project an image of its so-called environmentally sustainable forestry, but in fact this is mostly greenwashing", says Elin Götmark, spokesperson for Protect the Forest Sweden.

"The conversion of Sweden's natural, mostly old-growth forest ecosystems into industrial monocultures still continues. But so does the fight to save the remaining unprotected natural forests. According to the UN Convention of Biological Diversity, we should protect at least 17% of all productive forest, and the EU Habitats Directive demands that the western taiga should have a favorable conservation status. We are far from reaching these goals, and the forests needed to meet them are logged every day", says Elin Götmark.

The report The old-growth forests threatened by the Swedish state by Protect the Forest Sweden and Greenpeace Sweden shows how Sveaskog has de-registered known woodland key habitats. Some of these forests are surveyed in the report, and many of them have been found to have high conservation value. Some of them are also registered to be logged. This means that customers who buy Sveaskog’s products marked with the FSC certification-label are misled, since the FSC standard forbids clear-cutting of woodland key habitats.

In accordance with the instructions issued by the Swedish government, Sveaskog’s primary obligation is to create a profit. This creates a strong incentive to prioritize logging over conservation, even in forests with high conservation value. A campaign organized by twenty-three Swedish environmental organizations in recent months has gathered many examples of forests with high conservation value that Sveaskog has clear-cut or planned to do so.

"Sweden's forests and its habitats are at a critical state, the campaign 'Our Forest' demands that the government alters Sveaskog's instructions so that they can start to prioritize nature conservation over profit", says Lina Burnelius, spokesperson for forest and bio-economic issues at Greenpeace.

"The last remaining unprotected high conservation value forests we have left here need to be protected. These forests contain biological values - and carbon storages - that cannot be preserved if the Swedish state, via Sveaskog, continues to log them. Today’s conversion from natural forest to monocultures needs to stop - neither climate nor biodiversity can handle this high rate of clear-cuts”, says Lina Burnelius.

“We demand that the forest industry makes it possible for us to actually meet our national and international environmental agreements. Forests are our natural climate solution - but only if the little that remains of our natural forest is protected instead of logged. If we are to reach the 1.5 degree target the last natural forests must be protected”, says Lina Burnelius.

It is not only on Sveaskog's land that biodiversity is threatened: a nation-wide inventory of Swedish woodland key habitats has recently been stopped by political parties with support of the government. Now when these areas are no longer being identified on official maps, FSC products from woodland key habitats are at risk of being sold to unaware customers worldwide.

"In canceling this inventory, the Swedish state is breaching its international obligations to preserve biodiversity”, says Elin Götmark.

Press contacts:

Elin Götmark, spokesperson for Protect the Forest,
+46706787423, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Lina Burnelius, spokesperson for forest and bio-economic issues, Greenpeace
+46722144360, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Sveaskog is planning to clear-cut a 200 year old forest at Melakträskliden in Arvidsjaurs communty. Foto: Björn Mildh

”We are deeply concerned about the state-owned company Sveaskog which is clear-cutting and planning to clear-cut forests with high natural values”. 12 Swedish NGO’s have written an open letter to Sveaskog, Swedish authorities and the government ministers Ibrahim Baylan, Minister of Enterprise and Innovation, Isabella Lövin, the Minister for Environment and Jennie Nilsson, the Minister of Rural Affairs.

A collection of examples of threatened natural forests from the counties of Norrbotten, Västerbotten and Dalarna is included in the letter. These forests are only a small collection of all the forests with high natural values which Sveaskog is planning to clear-cut. The NGOs call for protection of all of Sveaskogs’ natural forests with high biodiversity.  David van der Spoel, spokesperson of Protect the Forest, states:

“Forests with high natural values should be protected not logged. We demand that the government lowers the revenue return of Sveaskog so this can be possible. Natural forests should be preserved for the climate since the boreal forest accumulates carbon in the ground. Natural forests also need to be protected for biodiversity since about 1 800 species forest living species are red-listed in Sweden. The forests which are mentioned in the open letter are just examples, there are many more”. 

The potential of reaching national and international environmental goals is rapidly decreasing. Researchers say that at least 20 per cent of the productive forest in Sweden needs long-term protection, today only 5 per cent forest is formally protected.  Björn Mildh, who has been actively engaged for protecting threatened forests for many years and is a member of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, states:

“Sveaskog has a noticeable lack of forest ready to cut because of previous over-logging. Despite the fact that the company is state-owned- that is to say owned by the Swedish citizens, ambitions about conservation have been abandoned in favor of a comparatively brutal forestry. They clear-cut both natural forests near mountains and forests in the Sami-villages’ core-areas which are of national interest. This is done in an attempt to feed sawmills and industry with wood.”  

To log forests with high conservation values strides against the Paris-agreement where the focus is to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. If boreal natural forests are clear-cut the carbon dioxide which is sequestered in the ground will be released to the atmosphere and contribute to the greenhouse effect. It is also not in line with the UN’s Aichi goals to clear-cut natural forest with red-listed species. Pia Björstrand, spokesperson in the NGO Climate Action- one of the organizations which has signed the open letter, states:  

“It should be prohibited to clear-cut old-growth forests considering the situation of emergency which prevails now. The benefits in using such forests for products does not up-weigh the loss of biodiversity and the negative consequences for the climate which occur when the forest is clear-cut.” 

The open letter is a part of the campaign Vår Skog (translated: Our Forest) addressed to Sveaskog, initiated and supported by 23 Swedish environmental organizations. The campaign demands that Sveaskog protects all of its threatened natural forests with preservation values and over 40 000 people have signed a petition. Representatives from Greenpeace, Protect the Forest, Climate Action, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and many more have signed the open letter to Sveaskog. The open letter, which is in Swedish,  can be downloaded here. The collection of examples of threatened natural forests, which is in Swedish, can be downloaded here

 

 Photo: Manfred Irmer from Pixels.

By 2030, 30 percent of the aviation fuel used in Sweden will consist of biofuels. This is proposed by the investigator Maria Wetterstrand appointed by the Swedish Government. The new investigation pays no attention to that biofuels emit carbon dioxide and that increased harvesting threatens biodiversity.

By 2021, one percent of the aviation fuel in Sweden should be made of biofuel. The amount of biofuel will then gradually increase so that by 2030, the amount is 30 percent. The investigation proposes that the target should reach 100 percent renewable fuels by 2045.

An increasing number of scientists warn about the negative effects of biofuels. Protect the Forest and Biofuelwatch UK/US have informed Maria Wetterstrand about this. However, Protect the Forest implies that the investigation is a disappointment which sends the wrong signal. The Government must ensure that the number of flights is significantly reduced and that larger investments are made on increased rail traffic. 

Kristina Bäck from Protect the Forest says:

”It is not possible to continue to fly as usual and advocate increased harvesting and use of biofuels to mitigate climate change. It is far from sustainable. Logging boreal forests and increasing the combustion of biofuels exacerbates global warming.”

However, the investigation has, according to Protect the Forest, incorrectly found that biofuel conversion will lead to reduced emissions in the future. The air travel is also expected to increase, not decrease. Using logging residues from forestry as biofuel is advocated. However, 10 percent of all bioenergy from the forest in Sweden comes from whole trees, not residues. There is a risk that logged natural forests may become biofuel.

Protect the Forest is concerned that the Government does not adhere to the science. Almost 800 scientists warn that forest biofuels emit more carbon dioxide than fossil fuels. The scientists write that if forests are harvested for bioenergy, even if it is done in a sustainable way, and if forests are allowed to regrow, carbon dioxide is emitted. The warming impact can last for decades up to a century.

Protect the Forest states that the number of flights as well as the energy consumption need to decrease radically. Kristina Bäck says:

“We log forests that sequester carbon dioxide to get biofuels which emit carbon dioxide when burnt. The last unprotected natural forests in Sweden are in risk of being logged in order to become aviation fuel and short-lived products. It is greenwashing to call this sustainable .”

Protect the Forest states that, in addition to energy efficiency, the consumption and production of paper, forest products and other natural resources must be greatly reduced in favor of reuse and recycling.

The Swedish Energy Agency is commissioned to analyze whether financial support is needed for investment or operational development of production facilities with new technology. This is initially presumed to be costly.

“This means that taxpayers will subsidize increased flying on behalf of our forests”, says David van der Spoel, spokesperson of Protect the Forest.

Press release from FERN, March 4, 2019:

In a landmark lawsuit to be filed today against the European Union, plaintiffs from five European Member States, including Romania, Ireland, Slovakia, France and Estonia are charging that the EU’s 2018 Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) will devastate forests and increase greenhouse gas emissions by promoting burning forest wood as renewable and carbon neutral. 

The legal case, which will be filed in the European General Court in Luxembourg, cites scientific evidence that wood-burning power plants pump more carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere per unit of energy than coal plants. The EU policy does not count the CO2 emissions from burning biomass fuels for heat or energy, making it appear that they are more climate-friendly than fossil fuels. The plaintiffs are asking the Court to annul the forest biomass provisions of RED II in order to render the burning of forest wood ineligible for meeting EU Member State renewable energy targets and subsidies. 

“The EU’s policy relies on the false and reckless assumption that burning forest wood is carbon neutral,” said Dr. Mary S. Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, and lead science advisor on the case. “However, scientists from around the world, including the EU’s own science advisors, warned that burning forest wood actually increases emissions relative to fossil fuels.”    

“The lawsuit we are filing today alleges the EU’s policy fails to comply with nearly all of the principles for environmental policy that are laid out in the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU, including that policy should be based on science, address climate change, and embrace the principle that polluters pay,” said Raul Cazan, with 2Celsius in Romania, one of the NGO plaintiffs. “It’s hard to imagine a more counter-productive policy than burning forests for fuel.”   

“We’re in a climate emergency that the EU is exacerbating by treating forests, virtually our only carbon sink, as fuel,” said Peter Lockley, legal counsel for the plaintiffs. “This favored treatment is expanding forest cutting, which in turn is impacting peoples’ property, rights, and livelihoods. It’s vital that people affected by this damaging law are allowed to come before the EU court to challenge it.” 

In accordance with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommendations for maintaining a livable climate, the European Commission has called for a climate-neutral EU by 2050, requiring the balancing of greenhouse gas emissions and uptake into carbon sinks, mostly forests, by that point. Under RED II, the EU is required to generate at least 32 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, to help reduce carbon emissions by 30 per cent in comparison to 1990 levels.  

However, biomass energy is a large and growing part of EU’s renewable energy mix. In 2016, nearly half the renewable energy produced in the EU came from burning woody biomass, and demand is expected to increase with RED II.  

Read the full press release here.

 

For more information about the case and a background on each of the plaintiffs, go to www.eubiomasscase.org

 

Pressrelease from Biofuelwatch:

Paris, 28th February 2019 – An Open Letter by 46 environmental NGOs and networks from 19 countries was delivered to French Environment Minister, François de Rugy today, urging the government to rule out permission to convert Cordemais power station or any other coal plant to biomass and to ensure that France’s four coal power stations are shut down no later than 2021. Signatories include Friends of the Earth International, the Global Forest Coalition, European Environment Bureau, and organisations from three of the world’s largest wood pellet producing countries. The groups warn that EDF’s biomass conversion proposals are not compatible with the French government’s commitment to meet the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement, which is to keep global warming to within 1.5 degrees. EDF proposes to convert Cordemais power station to burning mostly wood pellets alongside coal, which runs counter to the government’s previous announcement to end all coal burning by the end of 2021.

The Open Letter is being published ahead of a report by the French grid operator RTE into energy security across Western France. The signatories believe that energy security concerns must be addressed through greater investments in energy efficiency, as well as in wind and solar power, not by locking France into more years of high-carbon electricity generation.

The signatories emphasise that voiding the worst impacts of climate change requires rapidly phasing out fossil fuel burning without resorting to other high-carbon, polluting forms of energy, such as electricity from forest biomass.

EDF proposed to burn a special type of pellets made from waste wood in Cordemais and possibly Le Havre, however those claims have been debunked in a report published by the UK/US NGO Biofuelwatch (1).

Almuth Ernsting, author of the report, states: “EDF is speaking about producing steam-exploded pellets to burn in Cordemais. Such pellets have so far been burned in just one coal power station worldwide, in Canada, where they caused rapid corrosion, which could have put workers’ safety at serious risk of explosion had the plant not be shut down in time. EDF must know that this cannot work and that they would have to resort to normal pellets made from virgin wood.” (2)

Katja Garson from Fern, one of the groups that initiated the Open Letter, adds: “To convert Cordemais power station to biomass, EDF will almost certainly have to import large quantities of wood pellets from regions such as the southern US, where pellet companies are sourcing from the clearcutting of highly biodiverse coastal hardwood forests and from forest conversion to sterile monoculture tree plantations – or from countries such as Estonia, where forests are being cleared much faster than they can regrow, causing irreversible losses to wildlife and reducing communities’ quality of life.” (3)

As the Open Letter points out, the concept that burning forest biomass is inherently carbon neutral or low carbon has been debunked by hundreds of scientists. (4)

Read the Open Letter here.

(1) See biofuelwatch.org.uk/2018/edf-conversions-briefing/

(2) Steam exploded wood pellets made from virgin wood (which is less corrosive than chemically treated waste wood) were burned at the converted Thunderbay power station in Ontario. Once converted, the plant operated at just 2% of its capacity, generating electricity at 25 times the cost of other biomass power plants ( tvo.org//article/current-affairs/why-arent-northwestern-ontarios-state-of-the-art-energy-facilities-producing-any-energy). It was then shut down due to severe corrosion (cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/thunder-bay-gs-close-1.4764057). Corrosion can cause explosions in power stations.

(3) For background information about the impact of the pellet industry in the southern US, the world’s biggest pellet producing region, see dogwoodalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/NRDC_2014-2017Booklet_DigitalVersion-resize.pdf and reports.climatecentral.org/pulp-fiction/2/ . For background information about unsustainable logging practices in Estonia, see climatechangenews.com/2018/01/16/logging-surge-threatens-quarter-estonias-forest-warn-conservationists/ and news.mongabay.com/2017/10/estonias-trees-valued-resource-or-squandered-second-chance/

(4) See a letter to the European signed by 800 scientists: dropbox.com/s/l8sx5bl0h02x395/UPDATE%20800%20signatures_Scientist%20Letter%20on%20EU%20Forest%20Biomass.pdf?dl=0