MP Talk gives members of parliament the opportunity to share their views on Finnish society with an international audience. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Helsinki Times.
Finland has had forest policy longer than it has been an independent country. In the late 19th century, the slash-and-burn agricultural policy became illegal.
Harming forests without having a legal right to do so also became punishable. The first law that limited foresting was set in 1886. The last time the forest legislation was reviewed was during the last election season in 2011-2015, when it received a strong consensus in the Finnish parliament. Forests are still very close to the life of ordinary Finnish families. In a playful way, Finns say they are “people of the forest”.
Finnish forest politics has been carried out with the aim to manage forest resources in a sustainable way, maintain the biodiversity of forests, and ensure the effective regeneration of forests, as well as the overall growth of forest resources. After harvesting, according to the law, forests have to be reforested. Failure to do so results in the offender being sanctioned. It is fair to stay that in Finland, we have the most progressive forest legislation in the world, which is the way it should be since we are one of the most forest-rich countries in the world. In Finland, the total amount of forests and trees has been growing over the course of centuries, whereas in many other European countries forests were deforested long ago.
In Finland, forest ownership is mostly based on the possession of private individuals. 60% of Finland’s forest area is private property and almost 14% of Finns are forest owners. For many people, forestry is a profession and source of livelihood. Finland’s largest export sector is the forest industry. Product development and research, especially regarding forest fibre, is forward-looking and gives the opportunity to achieve remarkable environmental benefits, such as replacing plastics and other environmentally burdensome materials.
Climate and the role of forestry in the prevention of climate change is currently highly topical in Europe. Climate change is the most serious factor threatening the common future of humanity. Therefore, the European Union must take this challenge seriously and lead the way in the prevention and mitigation of climate change. Finland is engaged in this debate mostly through forests. The EU’s climate and energy framework includes the Emission Trading System (ETS), the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) and the sector of land use, which has been newly integrated into climate policy. Finland’s target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the Effort Sharing Sector is 39% (reference year 1990), which is second highest of all member states. This target includes cutting Co2 emissions from non-ETS sectors such as transport, buildings, agriculture and waste.
Finland is highly committed to reducing its emissions and we have successfully fulfilled the targets of the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment. Previously, the land-use sector had not been integrated into the EU’s climate policy to this extent. Considering the entirety of the climate and energy package, the LULUCF sector (land use, land-use change and forestry) is now getting out of hand from Finland’s point-of-view.
The key problem in the LULUCF proposal has been the definition of the Forest Reference Level (FRL). Luckily, on 13 September the European Parliament voted in favour of dynamic forest reference levels, which account for emissions from sustainably managed forests. This means that the reference level is not bound to the past – when harvesting was on a much lower scale in Finland. This is a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of work to do. We have to ensure that the role of sustainably managed forests and wood-based products in mitigating climate change will be accounted for in the regulation. We cannot accept that a country like Finland, which has successfully cared for its forest regrowth over centuries, will now be punished for reaping the fruits of its labour. On the other side of the coin, member states who have long ago deforested the majority of their forests could go on to receive the benefits of relatively minor reforestation.
Punishing Finland for its growth in harvesting would lead to problems in our economy and hinder many investments in the forest industry. Due to effective and sustainable forest management, there is now 40% more wood in Finnish forests than in 1970. It is not acceptable to think that we might not be allowed to benefit from our hard work. Demand in the forest industry and for wood-based products is growing on the global market. If Finland’s harvesting is limited, the wood will possibly be harvested in another country where forest legislation is not so progressive and effective. According to the preliminary results of the latest study published by Luke (the Natural Resources Institute Finland), Tapio consulting services and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, limiting harvesting in Europe would increase it throughout the rest of the world, especially the Americas and Russia. This would lead to a worldwide decline in the rest of the world's carbon sinks. In this case, the importation of wood from Russia will likely increase and, in the worst case scenario, the growing demand of fibre-based packaging, tissue products and other forest products in the Asian market will be answered by wood from the rainforests. Rainforests are not growing back, whereas Finnish forests do and they are reforested.
My own family has managed and taken care of our family forest since the late 19th century. Generation after generation has harvested, planted tree seedlings and thinned out the forest in order for future generations to be able to prosper. I hope that my own daughter can continue the tradition of sustainable forest management and forestry in the lands of my family.
Petri Honkonen is a Member of Parliament for the Centre Party. From central Finland, he is a member of both the Environment and Finance Committees. Mr. Honkonen is also President of the Young MPs’ Network.