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Sweden’s unsustainable forestry exposed at forest program’s annual conference

The Swedish state-owned forest company Sveaskog has clear-cut a large forest area, important for Laitavaara Sámi reindeer district in the north of Sweden. Photo: Marcus Westberg.

Last week (on the 14th of February) the Swedish Forest Program’s annual conference took place. The conference gave stakeholders opportunities to reflect about Swedish forestry and how it is affected by the EU. Criticism is raised by Protect the Forest Sweden: ‘It is evident that Swedish forestry is not sustainable’. 

Both the Swedish Minister for Rural Affairs and Swedish Minister for Climate and Environment attended the annual conference, together with Humberto Delgado Rosa, Director for Biodiversity in DG Environment, European Commission, and Torbjörn Haak, Ambassador, Deputy Permanent Representative of Sweden to the EU.

“The forest program’s annual conference made it clear how unsustainable the Swedish forestry is in terms of both safeguarding biodiversity and its climate impact. The Swedish Forest Agency’s own analysis exposed the authority’s inability to meet the contemporary demands of the state’s own supervisory authority,” said Lina Burnelius, project manager and international coordinator, Protect the Forest, Sweden.

The Swedish Forest Agency points out in its global analysis that the EU has a different time horizon than the authority, and states (in more or less the following terms) that: “the EU puts great emphasis on maximizing the carbon sink quickly and in the near future, and the EU wants to, via a cascading principle, increase the amount of long-lived products, while today’s Swedish forestry will provide climate benefits in 70 years from now.”

“Remarkably enough, the Swedish Forest Agency ignores the idea of what is climate neutral within 70 years, is by definition harmful to the climate. Now, the greenwashing is somehow exposed. The forestry that Sweden conducts, via climate-damaging monocultures that will be climate-neutral 65 years too late, becomes generally known,” said Lina Burnelius, Protect the Forest.

Lina Burnelius continued:

“It has been long known that society needs to reduce its emissions of all types of greenhouse gases, not just fossil fuels, at the same time as we need increased protection for the last real forests. Still, in the full glare of publicity, the Swedish industry, the Swedish forest and climate policy and its regulatory authorities choose to continue to delay the necessary transition.”

At the conference, the Swedish Forest Agency and the Ministry of Economic Affairs took turns to highlight the importance of “national competence” in order to not to have to adapt to the EU’s “timeline”.

It is not only the public and the EU that demand that Sweden should do the right thing and transform its forestry. Several judgments in the Swedish Land and Environment Court of Appeal have in recent years shown that the Swedish Environmental Code needs to be applied to a greater extent and that the Swedish Forest Agency needs to take a bigger account of it in its handling and supervision. In the case of a notification of forest felling, the Swedish Forest Agency shall also see it as a notification for consultation in accordance with the Environmental Code if the measure significantly changes the natural environment and therefore the Environmental Code becomes relevant.

Lina Burnelius, Protect the Forest, concludes: 

“The Swedish Forest Agency’s role as a supervisory authority with reference to the Swedish Environmental Code is an important step for species, biodiversity and all of us who are dependent on clean air, clean water, recreation, berries, fungi, and reduced emissions for our survival. But more is needed. Sweden stands at a fully informed crossroads: Either we do the right thing for ourselves and change Sweden’s forestry – or we continue on the current path by violating human rights, making it impossible for other industries, hindering environmental goals and increasing emissions while we hide behind phrases such as “fossil-free” products and “national competence”.”