Around 60% of Finns believe that Finland should not increase forest logging from its current level, according to a September 2019 survey commissioned by public service broadcasting company Yle based on interviews with 1,085 people from across the country.
In 2018 the EU Parliament accepted Regulation 2018/841 on the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions and removals from land use, land use change and forestry under the 2030 climate and energy framework. Following this so-called LULUCF regulation, member states were required to estimate the level of net CO2 sinks in forests and forest products during the 2020s had the forest management practices of the 2000-2009 reference period continued. Luke (Natural Resources Institute Finland) have compiled the figures and estimate that the reference level of carbon sinks in Finnish forests for the period of 2021-2025, excluding wood products, will be -21.16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. When wood products are factored in, the amount is -27.64 million tonnes per year. In 2018, logging in Finland totalled 78 million cubic metres, which was an all-time high.
Whether Finland should increase or reduce its logging levels is a frequently asked question, yet it is a common misunderstanding to view the logging reference level as a target or a maximum, when in reality it doesn't impose any limitations on the countries in question.
"The benchmark assessment calculated by Luke is not a goal or limit, but rather a reference level that compares logging possibilities in the 2020s to the forest management practices of the 2000-2009 reference period, taking into account changing age structure of forests. Limiting the level of logging through governmental regulations or targets is not even very efficient, because it is the supply and demand in the market that sets the levels," explains Kari T. Korhonen, Principal Scientist at Luke.
A question of carbon sinks
The thinking provoked by forestry and logging levels could partly be explained by societal adjustment, meaning that the relationship between people and the forest has changed. According to Yle's survey, 73% of the respondents do not think that their living is dependent on forestry in any way, while 17% earned a small sum from forestry and 7% of the respondents stated that their livelihoods are significantly or directly dependent on forestry.
While a majority of Finns are not financially dependent on forestry, they still rely on many wood-derived daily goods and hygiene products such as toilet paper, nappies and kitchen roll – all of which can improve life quality. A common motive for wanting to limit the level of logging is to maximise carbon sinks, but Korhonen says that things are not so black and white.
"If we try to preserve the carbon sinks by limiting logging too much then we may dispose the woodland to forest damages. Considering the climate, it would be a smart solution to make use of the forest and create wood-based products that act as carbon sinks and replace fossil-based products," he states.
Sami Oksa, Director of Stakeholder Relations at UPM Forest, agrees. He doesn't think that using the forest is a problem. What worries him is that increasing forest carbon sinks is taken as permission to upsurge fossil-based carbon emissions.
"Our forests are a carbon sink and they will be a carbon sink in the future, even if we increase logging levels. Using renewable wood won't accelerate climate change because wood grows back in 60 or 80 years, while if we use oil it takes million years to renew. Carbon released from fossil fuels is what we should worry about," he says.
Responsible practices are key
The total growing stock in Finnish forests is currently 2,5 billion cubic metres, compared to 50 years ago when it was 1 billion less. Through the practice of good forestry, growth has doubled in the past 50 years and Finnish forests now grow 108 million cubic metres each year, which is more than ever. While logging levels have increased, the current use of wood is lower than the annual growth.
Oksa believes that good forestry is a result of balancing logging with the welfare of nature. Companies that operate responsibly ensure the supply-chain is sustainable and that the wood never comes from areas where forestry causes deforestation.
"By following responsible forestry practices, we can grow the level of logging in the future and still increase the growth and growing stock while ensuring the welfare of the forest. Forests need to stay forests; that is the main thing. In this case, it is fair to say that you can have your cake and eat it, too," he concludes.
Text: Laura Iisalo