The Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) demonstrated recently with facts and figures that European forests are today in healthy conditions, despite some widespread pessimistic views, and their annual rate of expansion is still satisfactory, also thanks to their wise management.
40-45% of cellulose, coming from forest woods, traditionally feeds the production processes of paper, packaging and tissue. And the good news is that these sectors are not poised to suffer any shortage in years to come, because European forests are in good conditions and consistently growing. CEPI, the Confederation of European Paper Industries, dedicated them a recent online event during which, building upon facts and figures, it showed that some of the most pessimistic views about their state of health must not be completely trusted. The truth is that forest volume has been expanding constantly all over the continent between 1990 and 2015, and growing stocks underwent a 50% increase over the last 30 years. Northern countries, namely Finland, Sweden, Germany, have so far expressed the most impressive numbers, although others like Spain, Italy and France gained satisfactory results too. The overall European forest volume amounted to 17.6 billion cubic metres in 1990, whereas last year it was as high as 28 billion cubic metres. Forest growth increased by 0.61 billion cubic metres annually, since 1990, while on the other hand forest harvesting decreased by 0.45 billion cubic metres, and this means that 0.16 billion cubic metres were added to the stocks over the last three decades. Of course, in order to preserve and improve these achievements, stakeholders need to tackle a few important challenges. First of all, as CEPI director general Jori Ringman noticed in his opening speech, «natural disturbances in forests require active and sustainable forest management». Examples of good and effective management practices were in fact described by a number of entrepreneurs that, as we will later show, witnessed how running a forest-related activity can represent a profitable and most sustainable source of business.
In Ringman’s opinion, a sustainable forest management can also reach other targets. For example, it contributes to optimise the climate change mitigation impact, since one of forests’ most precious prerogatives is that to be able to sequestrate carbon. The total quantity of carbon stored in biomass, in Europe, is as high as 13,240 metric tonnes and it experienced a 50% growth between 1990 and 2020; the growth of carbon sink in the overall forest biomass was 5%, over the same period. The problem here is that «sinks fluctuate inevitably and naturally», as Jori Ringman pointed out, and, once again, a sustainable forest management can play a crucial role in strengthening the sink. Therefore, one most successful strategy to confront the climate crisis is that «to keep fossil fuels in the ground». Furthermore, about 25% of European forests were actually designed for biodiversity protection and the area of protected forests in the continent climbed to 50 million hectares, according to recent estimates, given their 65% increase since the beginning of this same century. Nevertheless, although «knowledge of the status of biodiversity» is constantly rising, it is also true that «monitoring often remains subjective, complex and cumbersome». Pro capita wood consumption across Europe amounts to 1.1 cubic metres, and the end-uses of wood prove «surprisingly sustainable». Cellulose was already quoted above, but 25-30% of lignin is commonly utilised for manufacturing dispersants, resins and glue, feed, chemicals, car components, barrier products, flavours and scents; and a share of it is destined to energy facilities. Finally, hemicellulose and extractives can serve the needs of the cosmetics, sweeteners and pharmaceutical industries. It is also noteworthy that 20% of European manufacturing companies operate in a forest based or forest related business, which is extremely innovative and digitalised, competitive and mainly made up of added value jobs. The percentage of added value per employee in forestry operations has grown 73% between 2000 and 2015; that of the total forest industry has experienced a 34% increase over the period. Nonetheless, it is most challenging for forest-related companies to scout and recruit the skilled workforce they require; «and disparities in work methods among EU countries are large».
A private affair
70% of European forests are also accessible for recreation and «should all recreational forest areas be equally divided between European citizens, there would be an athletics field (i. e. 1.2 hectares) for every person». Many Europeans, millions of EU citizens, are forest owners. In such nations as Portugal, Germany, Sweden, private persons and companies run the largest share of their countries’ forest areas. 48% in Germany; 78% in Sweden; 84% in Portugal. Germany alone hosts about two million forest owners, with an average of less than five hectares of land each; whereas Sweden has less than 300,000 owners (with 50 hectares each); and Portugal has 500,000 owners with an average 0.7 hectares each. Jori Ringman’s remark, on this topic, is that now a «sufficient market-based return needs to be ensured, in order to enable forest owners’ biodiversity conservation efforts». Following Ringman’s presentation, as anticipated earlier, the CEPI webinar European forests – prosperous and healthy or in critical conditions? continued with the roundtable Climate smart forestry in practice. Three entrepreneurs, from different European countries, took part in the debate. Luc Bouvarel, forest owner and consultant for CEPF, Confederation of European Forest Owners; Kristjan Tonisson, member of the management board of State Forests of Estonia (RMK), EUSTAFOR – European State Forest Association – and Nils Ringborg, forest owner and director for international affairs at Holmen Group (SFIF). They all agreed on the fact that the sector lacks of skilled human resources, with an attitude for innovation and digitalisation, and that this kind of business is requested to take into account a variety of factors, looking forward to reaching its goals. This means that not just the soil and the trees must be carefully managed and monitored, but also water supplies; and that investments in biodiversity are the very secret of a genuinely resilient forest. According to Bouvarel, some initiatives should take place in order to enhance people’s culture on forestry preservation; whereas in Tonisson and Ringborg’s view to invest in recreation is also a manner to preserve nature and wildlife and a source of revenue at the same time. All of the speakers came from territories where forests do not just represent a remarkable part of their land but have also been growing significantly over the last decades. For example, and also due to the vast amount of protected areas, Estonian forests are today 1.6 times larger than they were back in 1942; while five million additional hectares of forests have been growing in France over the last century.
Sustainability, according to IFCPA
At the end of April the International Council of Forest and Paper Associations (ICFPA) released its biennial Sustainability Progress Report which demonstrates progress in seven key areas of sustainability. The ICFPA serves as a forum for global dialogue, coordination and co-operation among 18 pulp, paper, wood and fibre-based associations across 28 countries. CEPI represents the European voice within the ICFPA: Jori Ringman, CEPI director general, is a member of the ICFPA steering committee. The 2021 ICFPA Sustainability Progress Report shows progress on nearly all of the sector’s performance indicators, using the most recent data available (2018-2019). The 2021 report also highlights the forest products sector’s global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Key progress on ICFPA’s sustainability performance indicators include:
- In 2019,52.6% of procured wood fibre came from third-party certified sustainably-managed forests, a 41 percentage point increase from the 2000 baseline year.
- Greenhouse gas emission intensity decreased 21% from the 2004/2005 baseline year.
- The energy share of biomass and other renewable fuels increased to 64.9%, a 12 percentage point increase since 2004/2005.
- Sulphur dioxide emission intensity from on-site combustion sources decreased 77% from the 2004/2005 baseline year and 38% from the previous report.
- Water use intensity decreased 12.5% from the baseline year.
- Investment in health and safety interventions yielded a 30% reduction in the global recordable incident rate from the 2006/2007 baseline with the number of recordable incidents falling to 2.88 per 100 employees annually.
- In 2019, 59.1% of paper and paperboard consumed globally was used by mills to make new products, marking a 12.6 percentage point increase in the global recycling rate since the year 2000.