Dialogues – all the rage in Brussels, as elections loom

2 April 2024

Written by: Hannah Mowat

Dialogues – all the rage in Brussels, as elections loom

Recent relations between certain farming unions and environmentalists have been all too hostile, goaded by political forces that find it expedient to distract and cultivate grievance. The Commission’s initiative to take the heat out of exchanges by gathering stakeholders for discussion is therefore understandable. Similar in style to the recent Strategic Farming dialogues (FW 292), the Commission’s Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Maroš Šefčovič, hosted and facilitated a dialogue on the forest-based bioeconomy. 

At the opening session, 14 March 2024, participants from across the sector were brought together. Fern and BirdLife, the two NGO participants, and close-to-nature foresters from three organisations, including Pro Silva, joined some 25 delegates from across the forest value chain. Large timber-processing companies such as Metsa and Stora Enso were present, as were several forest-owners associations. Start-up reforestation and restoration companies were also invited. Various cabinet-members and heads of unit left their DG silos to participate in the four-hour session. 

Together, we examined two main subjects. 

The first was how EU action could help to incentivise higher-value use of biomass and ensure the competitiveness of European forest-based industries. Participants widely agreed that burning wood – ‘biomass’ – for energy is the worst use that can be made of wood. Given the current market-supply crunch for wood, several actors were very concerned that more decisive action was needed to prevent timber from being burned as a default option. This is often the case, it emerged, simply because, in many Member States, direct access to timber-processing facilities is lacking – some even export whole logs to China for sawing, and then re-import them back into the EU.  

Maive Rute, DG Grow, also expressed the need to rein in waste in the construction sector, and extract and recycle wood; for this, eco-design principles and applicable building codes, which are not always favourable, must be examined.  

Fern emphasised the need to reduce consumption, especially of the lowest-value uses of wood so that forests are allowed to recover, and so more resources are available for higher-value uses: i.e., where carbon is stored longer, yielding a better climate return; where the final product is of higher economic value, and offers more jobs per cubic metre of wood. The European forest carbon sink is dramatically declining – pressure on European forests must be urgently removed, or risk that the EU will miss overall climate targets. 

Next, participants were invited to explore new business models for forest-owners. Foresters from Pro Silva, practitioners of Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF) that promotes selective logging over devastating clearcuts, offered insights. Many foresters who would be interested in CCF, do not know how to begin, and very little support is available to help them diversify. Indeed, DG Environment’s Humberto Delgado Rosa agreed that forestry had gone too far towards monocultures, and feared that nature’s invoice would soon come due; he pointed to the need to focus on resilience, underscoring that close-to-nature forestry could make economic sense.  

Plockhugget and Innofor, visionary companies that support forest owners shifting to lower-impact methods, highlighted the need to promote a diversity of tree species, as well as design innovation and mechanical processing of hardwoods that better reflects the species diversity naturally present in forests; their call was supported by the sawmillers and timber processers present. 

In largely positive discussions, one unsettling note was struck: regarding additional financing, focus on the offset model – the tenacious fallacy that nature destroyed in one place can be ‘offset’ by restoring nature in another – was worrying. This, to the detriment of examining a broader array of financial instruments: specifically, freeing up EUR 15 billion of public monies (as of 2022) currently tied up in governmental bioenergy subsidies each year, and redirecting these towards more sustainable support. 

Fern hopes the Commission will continue regularly to hold balanced dialogues that allow stakeholders perspectives to be presented openly. As yet, no mention of a next session has been made.

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This article was edited by Nicole Gérard.

Kategorien: News, Forest Watch, European forests

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