Region Värmland shows the way to a Circular Economy
On Wednesday 14 October, the Region Värmland European Office gathered over 40 representatives from the European Commission, European Parliament, member states, regions, international organisations and networks at a breakfast seminar. The aim of the seminar was to highlight and discuss the role of forest-based bioeconomy in realising a circular economy for Europe.
After a short introduction by Head of Office Kajsa Sundström, the moderator of the seminar Anders Olsson, Manager of Research and Innovation, started by showing a movie by the Swedish Forest Industries Federation to set the scene for the seminar. The movie was followed by a presentation about the work with forest-based bioeconomy in Värmland and the role it plays in realising the circular economy.
The presentation was a shared effort by Mr. Olsson and Dag Hallén, Manager of climate and energy at Region Värmland. Mr. Hallén and Mr. Olsson spoke about the transition to a circular economy in Värmland, which the region sees as key to realise economic growth and reduce environmental impact. Region Värmland has therefore responded to the European Commission consultation on the circular economy strategy with a position paper highlighting the need for the strategy to include more than the reuse of domestic and agro waste.
In Värmland more than 70 % of the land area is covered by forest. Between 1996 and 2011 the forest has had an average annual increment of about 8 million cubic meters, which is now slightly increasing. The gross felling is about 65% of the increment, which has lead to an increasing standing volume on productive forest land (25 % in this period!). In Värmland, coal storing by forest corresponds to more than the total emissions from fossil fuels. This entails great opportunities not only to use forest-based materials at the expense of fossil-based ones, but also to increase coal storing both in products and in forest. By building in wood we can for example store coal for more than a hundred years.
Mr. Olsson reminded that the transition to a circular economy entails a move towards an economy based on renewables instead of on fossil materials and fuels and provided examples of bio-innovations from the forest in Värmland and concluded with two recommendations:
- The forest-based bioeconomy should be given a central role in the development of a circular economy for Europe
- The Strategy for the Circular Economy must include the provision of subsidies and other incentives promoting the replacement of fossil and other non-renewable products with bio-based ones.
Natalia Matting, Leader of Sustainable Industrial Policy at the European Commission, spoke about the state of play for the European Strategy for Circular Economy, now set to be adopted in December by the Commission and by the European Council in spring. The original proposal by commission for a Circular economy package was withdrawn to give way to a strategy going beyond waste in a lot of ways.
Maria Gafo, Team Leader for Forestry at DG Agriculture and Rural Development in the European Commission talked thereafter about the European Forest Strategy and the related Multiannual Plan. The objective of the strategy is to support sustainable forest management and strengthen the coordination with Member States as well as the coherence of EU policies affecting forests. The strategy also aims to ensure that forests play a positive socio-economic & environmental role in the EU: rural development, added value products while delivering ecosystem services. The strategy is built on three principles: sustainable forest management (forests), resource efficiency (value chain) and global forest responsibility (international).
Fredrick Federley, Member of the European Parliament from the ALDE group, started the panel debate with the following introductory statement: “We are on the doorstep of a bio-revolution. Think of nano-cellulosa, a rest product from wood, which is three times as strong as steel, see-through and binds CO2. Europe needs to find a sustainable way of actively using the forest to continue providing raw material for the bio-economy”
Mr. Hallén addressed the issue of the cascading principle, arguing that it could entail too much regulation to manage the forest in such a structured way and possibly lead to limiting the use of for example bioenergy, which is a very important part of our energy-system in the Nordic countries. Ms Matting answered that the cascading principle is an on-going political discussion and that from a DG GROW perspective there is a wish for better balance between the energy objectives and the circular economy objectives. Too many rules is not the objective and there needs to be clarity on how to better use the cascading principle.
A representative from European forest institute claimed that the cascading use principle may promote the use of bio-materials, whereas a delegate from the Confederation of forest owners argued that the EU should not regulate how to decide on the biomass use. It would instead be better to focus on resource efficiency in a broader sense. The cascading principle should not be used to try and solve the problem, but rather to focus on where the problem is. “Why is there no discussion of applying the same condition to the oil industry?” Ms Gafo replied by stating that the forest sector already works according the cascading principle through the market.
The biggest obstacle for an effective forest policy in Europe according to Mr. Federley is the general public’s perception that using the forest means limiting the access to the forest for sport and recreation purposes. This should however not be an issue if the forest is managed well and public access is ensured. Ms. Gafo agreed that the public perception is a challenge adding that the commission has been working to promote a better awareness of sustainable forest management. In recent EU initiative, children from different countries were invited to draw their thoughts on the forest. The kids drawings communicated three clear messages: it is bad to throw waste and to cause fires in the forest, and it is also bad to cut the trees. “Here we need to do something. Children think that cutting the trees is wrong!”
Natalia Matting concluded with a reflection “Some people in the commission also think that the bio-economy is something on the side of the circular economy. Communication is again, very important.”
As John Bell from DG Grow said in a seminar earlier in the week: There will be no circular economy without the bio-economy and there will be no bio-economy without regional bio-economies.
Region Värmland would like to thank all members of the panel and participants for a fruitful discussion, which will inform our further work towards establishing the role of the forest-based bio-economy as key to realising a circular economy for Europe.
The Swedish Forest Industries Vision (YouTube) (öppnas i nytt fönster)
The Värmland Way (öppnas i nytt fönster)
Natalia Matting – Circular Economy Strategy (öppnas i nytt fönster)
Maria Gafo – EU Forest Strategy (öppnas i nytt fönster)
Position Paper on Circular Economy Region Värmland (öppnas i nytt fönster)