bioeconomy Marc Palahi

The bioeconomy should be a new way of thinking – interview with Dr Marc Palahi

Couple days before the scientific seminar “Emerging forest-based solutions and their implications for forest management” organized within EFI 2017 Annual Meeting in Norway, I had a great pleasure to meet with Dr Marc Palahi – the Director of European Forest Institute (EFI). Dr Palahi visited Ås, where he gave a presentation about “The key transformational role of the forest bioeconomy”. The seminar was organized thanks to cooperation of Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research, and I could not skip the opportunity to ask Dr Palahi for an interview for Forest Monitor.

First, thank you Dr Palahi for accepting the interview invitation. On behalf of Forest Monitor readers’, thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience.

You gave very inspiring presentation about the role of forests in new bioeconomy era. Among others, you mentioned wood-based textiles for clothing, bioplastics made of wood, and the use of forests for climate-smart building constructions. It seems that if we will start using such forest products in coming years, the demand for wood is going to increase. Do you think that we have enough wood, which can be sustainably harvested in Europe, to feed these new wood-based industries in the bioeconomy era?

    – Using wood for new or increasingly important uses and products does not necessarily require using more wood volumes than in the past as the demand for some traditional products like paper is decreasing due to the digital economy. In fact, EU industrial roundwood production has been since 2007 on average 45 million cubic meters lower than in 2007, which is equal to Germany’s annual production. At the same time the efficiency in using wood, for instance in construction, is increasing for example due to increased cascading while some emerging products related to green chemicals, food additives, etc might require low volumes of forest biomass while they provide high value. Finally, it is important to remember that globally more than 50% of the wood removals are used for fuelwood (main use in Africa and Asia). But in future decades with the rise of solar and wind energy globally, and increasing share of wood removals could be used for non-energy uses. In any case, as I mentioned below, a sustainable bioeconomy needs to be developed in synergy with biodiversity conservation and other ecosystem services that enhance our natural capital (key for biobased economic activities).

In one of your slides, you presented a forest virtuous circle that consist of bioeconomy, governance and resilience. Could you explain Forest Monitor readers a bit more what these three components mean, and how they should interact with each other?

    – Resilient forests and investing in biodiversity is a prerequisite for a sustainable and resilient bioeconomy which is needed to replace our existing fossil-based economy. The fossil-based economy is the cause of climate change and increasing natural disturbances which are also having a big impact on the resilience and sustainability of our forests (we have seen clear cases this summer with catastrophic forest fires affecting Portugal, Spain, California, etc and storms in Poland). At the same time, an ambitious and sustainable bioeconomy can attract the necessary private investments (public efforts are not enough to ensure resilient forests at a continental scale) for financing sustainable forest management, biodiversity conservation and support the adaptation of our forest ecosystems to climate change. One needs to realise that bioeconomy and biodiversity are the two sides of the same coin.

In this context, good governance and science-informed and holistic policies are crucial to provide the right incentives for sustainable forest management to build a synergistic relationship between resilience and bioeconomy related goals. A forest virtuous circle built around good governance, resilient forests and an ambitious forest bioeconomy is as well a prerequisite for a sustainable and resilient society that prospers within the renewable boundaries of our planet.

In one of the previous Forest Monitor interviews professor Max Krott, from University of Göttingen (Germany), said that forestry is not much affected by the deficits of the EU because it is determined by national policies, and mentioned that the well-functioning subsidiarity in forestry has a potential to become a role model for all EU policies. Do you think that we need a Common Forest Policy in the EU in order to achieve all goals that European forestry will face in the bioeconomy era?

    – Nowadays we have a fragmented European forest policy framework made out of different policies directly or indirectly affecting European (and to some extent non-European) forests, forestry and the forest-based sector. I believe that in the future we need a science-informed, long-term and coherent forest-related policy framework in Europe to ensure that European forests and forestry deliver those goods and services with the highest societal value for European citizens.

Forestry and wood industries are not the only sectors in the EU that can contribute towards CO2 emission reductions. Agriculture has also a big potential. In addition, approximately 38% of the EU budget (equivalent to 0.4% of the Union’s GDP) is spent on agriculture and rural development. Recently, I was reading an article of Ms Bednafiíková, entitled “Why is the agricultural lobby in the European Union member states so effective?”, who wrote the following:

 “An important element in the process of reforming agricultural policy is the agricultural lobby. Its firm standing in the EU has had a not inconsiderable influence on efforts to bring about a liberal form of the CAP [ed. Common Agricultural Policy]. As an international political project, the liberalisation of agriculture is greatly encumbered, by resistance to liberalisation being primarily based on fears stemming from the threats of the multifunctionality of agriculture and its abilities to bring about environmental and social welfare.”

It seems that forest and wood industry groups are not as strong as agricultural ones. How do you think, what are in that case the main competitive advantages of forestry (in comparison with agriculture) which can make a forest and wood industries sectors a main player in the fight for EU funds, related to the development of forest-based bioeconomy concept?

    – Forests are the most important biological infrastructure in our continent, and the main source of non-food and non-feed renewable biological resources (not competing with food production). Due to its cross-cutting nature, sustainable forestry is the most cost-effective supply side measure to address climate change mitigation and adaptation questions while supporting the Sustainable Development Goals. We need to create a science-informed and compelling narrative to explain that and connect with increasingly urbanised societies, young generations and the media.

A last question what are yours and European Forest Institute plans for 2018?

    – Continue connecting knowledge to action!

EFI Marc Palahí
Photo: Ville Kokkola/ Salama Visual 

Marc Palahí is the Director of the European Forest Institute and responsible for leading the organisation towards an acknowledged pan-European science-policy platform.

Previously he led EFI’s policy support activities and during this time was instrumental in launching ThinkForest, a European high-level science-policy forum on the future of forests, Chaired by Mr. Göran Persson.

Marc has a PhD in forestry and is an expert on forests and global change, has written influential articles about the transformational role of forests in fighting climate change and developing a European bioeconomy.

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