Lina Burnelius from Protect the Forest gives a speech during COP26.

Global attention tends to focus on the loss of tropical rainforests while the logging of carbon-rich primary and older forests in Canada, Russia and Sweden often is overlooked. Lina Burnelius, project leader and international coordinator at Protect the Forest, participated in a panel during the COP26 in Glasgow organized by Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC). 

”The Swedish forest industry has managed to successfully describe itself as sustainable and climate-neutral because it has poured millions into PR campaigns. Even though 90% of the forests in Sweden are already logged and lost, we are somehow famous for being sustainable. If we, in Sweden, continue on today’s path, the last remaining natural forest ecosystems in Sweden, outside the few percent of protected areas, will be gone in less than ten years. Gone. You do not see these figures anywhere else, so please do not learn from us”, said Lina Burnelius when she participated in the panel during COP26. 

Lina Burnelius pointed out that the time for both continued expansion and ignoring the need for restoration – has passed. The time for losing ecosystems in favour of planting both crops or trees – has passed. The time for both prospecting and producing oil och fuels that we burn – has passed. Representing an industry that clearly belongs in the past, Sweden’s forest industry is not only producing climate-damning single-use products, energy and fuels from old-growth irreplaceable forests – Sweden unforully also defends this model on the global arena.

The panel discussed the climate imperative of safeguarding Northern forests and the need to create a global framework for increased protection of these forests and foremost the urgent need for a new paradigm that centers around Indigenous-led forest stewardship. 

Part of Lina Burnelius’ talk from the NRDC’s panel during COP26 here: 

The choice of speaking with greenwashed words is a systematic problem, a tactic and pattern. We see it within governments and within companies and often they are so in tune with one another that it is getting harder and harder to keep them apart. This is very much the case in Sweden.       

This tactic, though, is a global problem. It’s shown within the energy sector, within the transport sector, within the food sector and so on, and so on – sectors that all are also related to forestry, and foremost forest-loss.  

Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use – that was launched a few days ago and mentioned here today – is a great example of this once again: A lot of nice words, but no real action. Including just those kinds of definitions that one needs to have more or less the nitty-gritty knowledge about in order to see it for what it is; a declaration that paves the way for ‘businesses as usual.    

When it comes to declarations, and for example both national and EU-policy with regards to forestry Sweden is a leader. We are not a leader on sustainable forestry though, we are the leaders on greenwashing unsustainable forestry.

This is utterly disturbing to me. Because words are crucial. The conversation about land-use is crucial. We do need land-use. But we need sustainable land-use. And we all know that the word “sustainable” is very much watered down by now. The powerful forest industry from my country Sweden has poured millions into PR campaigns in order to shift the narrative, haijak the words, redefine these definitions, and successfully influence the public and politicians, both within Sweden, the EU and on the global agenda.  

Even though 90% of the forests in Sweden are already logged and lost. But we are somehow famous for being sustainable. How is this possible? Again. With the use of the right words and the wrong definitions. This industry successfully describes itself as ‘sustainable’, ‘green’, fossil-free, ‘climate-neutral, while they claim that they are providing ‘renewable energy’, by burning forest biomass, even though forest ecosystems are not renewable. They take thousands of years to form.  

Also, they claim they are part of a circular economy – but hiding behind these words, are an ever-expanding industry. If we, in Sweden,continue on today’s path, the last remaining natural forest ecosystems in Sweden, outside the few  percent of protected areas, will be gone in less than ten years. Gone. You do not see these figures anywhere else. So please do not learn from us.  

Why did a country like Sweden, which is about to lose all its last remaining forests felt comfortable signing Glasgow’s forest agreement. Again words and definitions. Clear-cutting of natural forests in order to plant monocultures of spruce or pine is not defined as deforestation in the Glasgow forest-agreement.  

The time for both continued expansion and ignoring the need for restoration – has passed. 

The time for losing ecosystems in favour of planting both crops or trees – has passed. 

The time for both prospecting and producing oil och fuels that we burn – has passed.   

Representing an industry that clearly belongs in the past, Sweden is not only producing and exporting climate-damning single-use products, energy and fuels from old-growth irreplaceable forests. Sweden defends this model on the global arena.  

I can go on forever about how unsustainable the Swedish model is, but my time is running out. So lastly. Sweden is not the role model, we are the opposite. Thank you.”

Short film with a part of Lina Burnelius’ talk from the NRDC’s panel during COP26 here.

Watch ‘The Logging Loophole at the Heart of the Glasgow Deforestation Pledge’ here.