Sweden row erupts over new EU strategy – fresh battle lines drawn

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The new strategy aims to boost biodiversity, limit burning trees for energy as well as protecting remaining old-growth forests from logging. It also aims to plant three billion trees as the bloc tries to reduce emissions as part of its Green Deal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

While the European Commission said it is not trying to dictate forest policy to member states, the strategy has sparked a bitter row in Sweden.

The Swedish Green Party and lawmakers have seen the merit in the EU’s new strategy as it moves away from harvesting forests and lets trees stand to maximise the positive impact.

Pär Holmgren, a Green Party European parliamentarian, said: “This strategy looks like a good first step, and that isn’t something I often say about environmental stuff coming out of the European Commission.”

He continued: “The most important thing for me and the Swedish Green Party – and this should be the most important thing for everyone – is to realise that without a sustainable ecology, we won’t have a sustainable economy either.”

The MEP said the tendency to plant “fields full of the same type of tree” is bad for biodiversity.

He added: “At the moment, too much of the material from forests is made into paper or biofuels which then means that the carbon will be released into the atmosphere as CO2 very fast.

“Then we don’t have the climate benefit.”

However, the farmer-friendly Swedish Centre Party and some forestry companies say the industry has the balance right – and are not keen on the new EU strategy,

The SCA Group, Europe’s largest private forest owner, want to continue to log vast quantities of building materials, fuels and paper products.

They said their trees sequester CO2 while they are growing, and when felled, can be used to replace more environmentally damaging products.

SCA chief executive Ulf Larsson said: “For me, it is so obvious that the most important thing that we can do for the climate is to continue to manage our forests in an active way.”

The debate is already shaking Sweden’s fragile political system as both the Greens and the Centre Party back the current left-leaning government.

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The feud could upend the government if they refuse to back the upcoming budget.

Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Löfven previously asked Business Minister Ibrahim Baylan to resolve the policy differences between the two parties ahead of next year’s election.

Mr Baylan said the forestry policy “is the obvious one” when asked what he had planned to prioritise.

Sweden is the world’s third-largest exporter of pulp, paper and sawn timber, according to forestry lobby group Swedish Forest Industries.

More than 70,000 people are employed in the timber industry and a further 50,000 single-person businesses are active in the sector.

The bloc’s Forest Strategy for 2030 said it will “contribute to achieving the EU’s biodiversity objectives as well as greenhouse gas emission reduction target of at least 55 percent”.

It continued: “It recognises the central and multifunctional role of forests and the contribution of foresters and the entire forest-based value chain for achieving a sustainable and climate-neutral economy by 2050 and preserving lively and prosperous rural areas.”

The objectives of the strategy set a “vision and concrete actions to improve quantity and quality of EU forests and strengthen their protection, restoration and resilience”.

It reads: “It aims to adapt Europe’s forests to the new conditions, weather extremes and high uncertainty brought about by climate change.

“This is a precondition for forests to continue delivering their socio-economic functions, and to ensure vibrant rural areas with thriving populations.”

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