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Speech by Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Jari Leppä at the Bundestag

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
Publication date 16.1.2019 12.33 | Published in English on 7.2.2019 at 13.39

Honourable Members of Parliament and Members of the European Parliament, Dear forest sector experts,

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak at this fascinating event.

Three quarters of the land area of Finland is covered by forests. Finland’s forests serve as a significant carbon sink that absorbs as much as half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Forest products make up more than 20 per cent of the goods exported from Finland. For this reason, we are working to further strengthen the role of forests in mitigating climate change, adapting to climate change and developing a sustainable bioeconomy.

Forest growth in Finland has been increasing steadily, and around 70 per cent of the forest in Finland is currently being utilised. In addition to felling potential, the increased forest growth also offers opportunities for versatile use of forests and strengthens carbon sinks in the long term.

The growth of forests is based on active forest management and use. In this respect, private forest owners play a very important role. Forests are very important for the economy. The growing international demand for wood products is also visible in Finland in the form of increased felling. This, in turn, emphasised the need for more effective nature management of forests and measures to preserve diversity.

Our forests are healthy and have excellent growth potential. Finland’s expertise in combating forest fires, which has received attention on the world stage, is a fact. The increase risk of forest destruction due to climate change is, however, also a reality. We respond to these challenges through good forest management.

Wood is the most important raw material for the Finnish bioeconomy. Environmentally friendly consumption choices advance the shift from the fossil fuel economy to the bioeconomy, and also increase the demand for wood material. Wood is being used in an ever-increasing variety of ways. Applications on the rise include packaging materials, cosmetics, medications and textiles. Side streams and leftover material from wood processing are also utilised effectively. The development and commercialisation of new wood-based products are part of Finland’s National Forest Strategy.

The role of forests and the forest sector is growing as we aim towards a carbon neutral, climate sustainable society. This is also stated in the Commission’s long-term vision of a wealthy, modern, competitive and climate neutral society. The communications of the Commission also strongly emphasise the role of the bioeconomy in replacing polluting raw materials with bio-based materials. Wood also offers solutions to replace plastics. We feel it is important for the EU to work consistently to promote the introduction of sustainable, biobased products to the market and to encourage the shift from non-renewable materials to renewable ones.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you are very well aware, the EU does not have its own common forest policy. However, there are more and more EU regulations concerning forests, and as a result of climate and energy policy, the forest sector is often even at the centre of policymaking. Finland has been determined in promoting better coordination of forest matters in the EU and increased utilisation of forest expertise in the preparation of EU initiatives. An important tool for this work is the EU Forest Strategy. The current strategy will be in force until 2020, so its renewal will soon be a topical matter.

As you know, Finland will take on the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of this year. We hope to be able to advance the goals I have mentioned for the EU Forest Strategy during our Presidency term. During our Presidency term, the bioeconomy will feature prominently.

Negotiations on the agreement on forests in Europe are beginning once again after several years of inactivity. The decision to resume the negotiations is currently being processed for approval by the European Ministers of Forestry through a tacit procedure, and I believe that the negotiations will begin. The EU Forest Strategy and the agreement on forests in Europe complement one another. It would set an excellent example for the world if we in Europe could achieve a legally binding forest agreement.

Last October, the Commission announced that it would be updating the EU bioeconomy strategy. I feel this provides an excellent starting point for developing the bioeconomy based on forests, too. The goals of the strategy are to grow the added value of the bioeconomy, increase the amount of expertise, research, guidance and cooperation related to the bioeconomy, accelerate investments and ensure sustainability and approvability. A good starting point is to use the bioeconomy to promote the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Finland considers it important for Member States to be able to promote the bioeconomy based on their own strengths and possibilities. Finland hopes that the strategy can be used to improve the
position of primary producers in the bioeconomy value chain. Raising awareness about the bioeconomy is essential in bringing bio-based products and services to the market. In addition to rural areas, cities and urban regions also play a significant role in accelerating the bioeconomy. Wood-based products and wood construction in cities create markets for bioeconomy products. Bioeconomy solutions strengthen the development of urban regions and rural areas, which complement one another.

As part of the programme for its Presidency term, Finland will organise a major bioeconomy conference that will help to accelerate the implementation of the updated strategy. The conference will take place on 9 July in Helsinki and offer an opportunity to get acquainted with the Finnish bioeconomy. We look forward to seeing you in Finland!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Forests are the most effective technology available for removing carbon from the atmosphere. The 1.5 Degree Report released by the IPCC this past autumn called for action to combat deforestation
and increase the amount of forest area in the world by an area equivalent to the whole European continent. Responding to challenges at this scale will require long-term efforts worldwide. By promoting afforestation and the sustainable management and use of forests, we can achieve a wide variety of climate benefits.

I also see significant opportunities particularly in Africa. As part of the partnership between the EU and Africa, European Commission President Juncker is leading the preparation of a broad-ranging investment programme. If implemented, the programme would bring billions of euros in funding for investments promoting sustainable development. Finland has proposed an initiative to the Commission in which funds from the programme will be used to support sustainable management and use of forests, afforestation of treeless areas and measures to combat deforestation in Africa in cooperation with local operators.

Dear friends, the significance of forests for human health and safety, natural diversity and various different sectors of trade will be further highlighted in the changing climate. We are making great efforts at the national and Europe-wide level to reduce emissions. We are on a challenging but rewarding path from the fossil fuel economy to the bioeconomy. I strongly believe that high quality, sustainable management and use of forests is part of the solution.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your attention!Speech by Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Jari Leppä at the Bundestag on 16 January 2018 Honourable Members of Parliament and Members of the European Parliament, Dear forest sector experts,

Grune Woche