Are Europe’s largest carbon sinks being cared for properly?

Sweden claims the European Commission has no right to interfere in its forest management policies.
Sweden claims the European Commission has no right to interfere in its forest management policies. Copyright Matt Palmer
By Rebecca Ann Hughes
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Some of Europe's largest wood producers claim the European Commission has no right to interfere in their forest management policies.


Sweden has come under fire from critics calling out the country’s unsustainable forest-based industry.

Despite being a strong backer of the EU’s green policies, Sweden has been criticised for having a climate-damaging approach to cutting down trees.

Forests cover 70 per cent of the country, but Swedish MEPs maintain that’s no reason for the country to offset other nations’ high emissions.

The country’s policymakers have told the European Commission that they should not interfere with Sweden’s forest management.

Is Sweden a green country?

Sweden has historically been one of Europe’s most pro-environment nations.

As well as pushing for more ambitious policies on climate change across the continent, it has pledged to be climate neutral by 2045, five years earlier than the goal set for the whole of the EU.

Sweden’s expanse of forests - one of Europe’s biggest carbon sinks - is a key factor enabling it to be a climate friendly country.

Is Sweden exploiting its forests?

With forests covering 70 per cent of the country, Sweden has a thriving forest-based industry, ranking among the world’s top 10 wood product exporters.

Now, this has been thrust into the spotlight as the European Green Deal discussions seek to balance the economic advantages with environmental safeguards.

Sweden - and other thickly forested nations like Austria and Finland - have said the European Commission should not be involved in their forestry policies.

“I don’t think it’s proper that our forestry sector should be regulated by people with little or no understanding of this,” MEP Jessica Polfjärd told Politico.

Is Sweden's approach to forestry unsustainable?

Sweden has just taken up presidency of the Council of the EU for six months and will be expected to address the environmental concerns around its forest management.

But leaders in Sweden’s forestry industry are pushing for the presidency to be an opportunity for the country to show Brussels their sector is not detrimental to climate action.

Emma Berglund, forest director at the Swedish Forest Industries Federation, said she “hope[s] the Swedish presidency will take the opportunity to put a focus on the role of our business and industry in tackling climate change.”

Sweden has legislation in place to ensure a balance between production and environmental goals.

Areas of felled forest have to be regenerated either by planned planting or by leaving trees that will naturally produce new seedlings.

Polfjärd said “the key responsibility” during Sweden’s presidency is to “find a balance in the Council between the need for an ambitious climate agenda while addressing legitimate concerns over the energy crisis and economic uncertainty.”

The EU 2030 Forest Strategy urges countries to avoid clear-cutting - the main production method in Sweden - because of its damage to ecosystems.


Clear-cutting is a method whereby all trees in an area are cut down. This means older trees are also felled and soil is destroyed, limiting the area’s biodiversity.

But Sweden has pushed back, maintaining that the European Commission does not have the expertise to dictate their forestry strategy.

Will Sweden’s right-wing government lower its climate ambitions?

Green activists have also expressed concern that Sweden’s new conservative government coalition will step down the country’s climate goals.

“It is really tragic that Sweden is a country that has a history of being in the forefront when it comes to climate, environment, and now, during these very important six months, is having a right-wing government that definitely will not prioritise climate,” Green MEP Pär Holmgren told Politico.

Greta Thunberg, together with fellow Swedish climate activists, recently sued their country for failing to take action on climate change.

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