The Swedish government wants to trade emission allowances for the right to harvest more forests.

Notes and added commentary from a story that aired on Swedish radio

  • Sweden’s surplus emission allowances should not be sold or scrapped – instead, the Swedish government believes that surplus emission allowances should be offset against fewer requirements for forestry.
  • In the past, the government has scrapped the surplus, which has contributed to a higher price for greenhouse gas emitters.
  • Sweden’s government changed their position after the forest industry protested the fact that EU requirements could limit logging

Sweden’s terrestrial fossil fuel emissions have been reduced more than EU legislation requires of Sweden. This results in a surplus of emission allowances. For several years, Sweden has chosen to scrap, or cancel, the surplus allowances. This reduces the number of allowances on the market, which makes it more expensive to emit carbon dioxide. Now the Swedish government wants to abandon this principle, and instead the surplus of emission allowances will be used to reduce commitments to reduce deforestation, in a completely different part of the climate policy.

The EU is tightening/strengthening requirements to store more carbon in the forest. The important climate benefit of protecting forests, by both keeping their stock intact and sequestering even more carbon, needs to be increased, says the European Commission, which wants Sweden to decrease their loggings, which the Swedish forestry industry strongly dislikes. That is why the Swedish government now wants to make use of the rules on how emission reductions (emission allowances) are accounted for in the EU.

By cashing in Sweden’s surplus of emission allowances, the forest industry can harvest more timber. But this means that Sweden will fail to meet the EU’s goals for protecting and restoring forests, and storing carbon in the land sector.

Social Democrat Jytte Guteland, who previously negotiated the EU’s climate law: ‘Sweden is still proposed to bear one-sixth of the EU’s cost of sequestering carbon in forests.” Guteland thinks that burning more forests can help replace imported Russian gas… but this is an illusion, as shown here.

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Do policymakers really believe that shuffling carbon allowances around and cutting more trees actually reduces atmospheric CO2? Newsflash: it doesn’t.

 

Comments from Lina Burnelius, Protect the Forest, Sweden:

A very strange, even shocking  proposal! We are of course  critical of the Swedish government’s desire to contribute to what is clearly a loophole. Imagine that this is Sweden’s permanent “climate” policy: clever accounting, emissions accounting fraud, greenwashing and loopholes! 

– Note also that Sweden’s territorial fossil emissions have decreased slightly, but if our international travel by air and sea is included, along with emissions from biofuels,  Sweden’s total emissions have increased. This fact in turn exposes that there is no climate policy to speak of! Sweden must first of all stop cheating and start accounting for all emissions, secondly actively make sure that all states and corporations pay the real price for carbon dioxide, naturally they must stop subsidizing combustion for energy or fuel, immediately set binding emission targets for all types of greenhouse gas emissions (not as today, when they have only non-binding targets for only fossil emissions), immediately give up their craze for false climate solutions like biofuels and its current technology fantasies, immediately implement real climate solutions like increased forest and ocean protection.   

– The Swedish government is clearly not interested in protecting the climate, with this proposal they show – once again- that they instead care about finding ways and loopholes in order protect its climate-damaging policies and business as usual 

– The Swedish Government knows, of course, that we must reduce emissions as quickly as possible, but also increase the sequestration of carbon in forests and soils.

(1) The cancellation of some emission allowances by governments is an important part of this, because it reduces the number of allowances on the market, which makes it more expensive to emit carbon dioxide. It must become even more expensive to emit carbon dioxide. 

(2) While reduced deforestation provides a double climate benefit, when forest protection is increased, emissions are reduced; we get fewer clear-cuts i.e. the forest’s carbon stock is protected instead of emptied into the atmosphere, while the forest continues to sequester even more carbon instead of being turned into the climate-damaging products that the Swedish forest industry mainly produces: fuels, disposable goods and paper.

– Burning fossil fuels is clearly devastating for the climate – and must be phased out as soon as possible – but that doesn’t mean that burning other fuels is automatically good. Not even if they are fossil-free. Burning biofuels immediately releases carbon dioxide, which contributes to the greenhouse effect in the same negative way as fossil fuels.  Talking about biofuels as a “temporary partial solution” and replacement for fossil fuels both prevents the transition we need away from combustion while increasing emissions over the next crucial decades: over the next 50-100 years, and even longer, forest biofuels have a higher climate impact than fossil fuels due to a lower energy content than oil and coal. More carbon dioxide is therefore emitted per unit of energy 

Some sources on the climate impact of biofuels 

“More carbon dioxide is therefore emitted per unit of energy” Serious mismatches continue between science and policy in forest bioenergy – Norton – 2019

Norton M., Baldi A., Buda V., et al. (2019). Serious mismatches continue between science and policy in forest bioenergy. GCB Bioenergy. 2019;11:1256-1263; Serious mismatches continue between science and policy in forest bioenergy – Norton – 2019

Booth, M. S. (2018). Not carbon neutral: Assessing the net emissions impact of residues burned for bioenergy. Environmental Research Letters 13 (3): http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac88E

EASAC (2017). Multi-functionality and sustainability in the European Union’s forests. EASAC policy report 32: Multi-functionality and sustainability in the European Union’s forests.

Holtsmark, B. (2015) Quantifying the global warming potential of CO2 emissions from wood fuels. GCB Bioenergy 7(2), 195-206; Quantifying the global warming potential of CO2 emissions from wood fuels.

Ter-Mikaelian, M. T., Colombo, S. J. & Chen, J. (2015). The Burning Question: Does Forest Bioenergy Reduce Carbon Emissions? A Review of Common Misconceptions about Forest Carbon Accounting. Journal of Forestry 113 (1), 57-68; http://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/saf/jof/2015/00000113/00000001/art0000

Johnston, C. M. T. & van Kooten, G. C. (2015). Back to the past: Burning wood to save the globe. Ecological Economics 120, 185-193; Analysis Back to the past: Burning wood to save the globe.

Hartmut, M. (2012). The Nonsense of Biofuels. Angewandte Chemie 51 (11): 2516-2518; Editorial: The Nonsense of Biofuels – Michel – 2012 – Angewandte Chemie International Edition – Wiley Online Library

In 2018, nearly 800 scientists signed a letter to the European Parliament with a clear warning that burning biomass from forests will worsen our climate impact in the coming decades.

Studies also show that forest biomass used for energy production can increase carbon dioxide emissions by about 40% compared to fossil fuels, if the loss of carbon stocks in the soil during harvesting is taken into account.

EASAC (2017). Multi-functionality and sustainability in the European Union’s forests. EASAC policy report 32: Multi-functionality and sustainability in the European Union’s forests

Holtsmark, B. (2012). Harvesting in boreal forests and the biofuel carbon debt. Climatic Change 112(2): 415-428; Harvesting in boreal forests and the biofuel carbon debt | SpringerLink

 If wood is used to produce second-generation liquid biofuels to replace fossil diesel, the payback period is estimated to be about 340 years. Holtsmark, B. (2012). Harvesting in boreal forests and the biofuel carbon debt. Climatic Change 112(2): 415-428; Harvesting in boreal forests and the biofuel carbon debt | SpringerLink

EASAC, the European Research Council, also stresses that the burning of forest-based products could increase carbon dioxide emissions in the EU and jeopardise the Paris Agreement.

In the EASAC report (2017), the researchers write: “Increasing the carbon storage in existing forests is a cost-effective measure to decrease net carbon emissions, but EU policies are currently biased towards the use of forest biomass for energy with potential negative effects on the climate over the short to medium term.”

Biofuels thus have a greater climate impact over the next crucial decades than fossil petrol and diesel because the land areas required for production largely involve deforestation or preclude forest restoration (Nature 2018). It is well known that ethanol, for example, emits more carbon dioxide per km driven than petrol, but this is true of all the common types of liquid biofuels that we currently use to fuel the internal combustion engines.

If we increase the amount of biofuel, for example Swedish ethanol from wheat, biodiesel from rapeseed or fuel from palm oil, huge areas of land will have to be cultivated. Just to replace half of the world’s fossil fuels would require the equivalent of a third of the world’s arable land. Such an expansion cannot take place without significant deforestation, resulting in huge carbon emissions and biodiversity loss. The latest IPCC report (2022) is clear: we need to protect more forests to reduce our climate impact. 

Increased levels of deforestation have negative climate impacts in both the short and long term, even if one takes into account that biomass from forests replaces fossil sources. Skytt T, Englund G, and Jonsson B-G. (2021). Climate mitigation forestry – temporal trade-offs. Environmental Research Letters; Climate mitigation forestry-temporal trade-offs.

Sweden’s emissions shell-game will destroy more forests
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