Politics & Finance
The forest sector plays a key-role in development of a bio-based economy
Sweden is a forest nation and the forest industry plays a major role in the Swedish economy. Today, the forest industry accounts for between 9 and 12 per cent of Swedish industry’s total employment, exports, sales and added value, according to figures from the Swedish Federation of Forest Industries 2014. The forest industry is heavily export oriented and makes a significant contribution to Sweden’s trade balance.
The forest industry is also economically important in another way. Since the industry is based on a raw material that is renewable, recyclable, and energy efficient in production, it has the potential to play a key role in the development towards a sustainable, bio-based society and economy. That is, in the transition from an economy that to a large extent has been based on fossil fuels to a more resource-efficient economy based on renewable raw materials that are produced through the sustainable use of ecosystem services from land and water. The Swedish forest industry wants to be a driver in this development.
Current forest policy places timber production on a level with nature conservation
Today’s Swedish forest policy and forestry-model is based on the idea that forests shall be used for multi-functional purposes. That is, forests shall be managed to provide economic, ecologic, as well as social benefits. Efficient and sustainable production of wood for different end-uses shall go hand in hand with preservation of valuable ecological- and socio-cultural values. The practical challenge lies in striking a balance between the different interests in Swedish forests.
The current forest policy was adopted in 1993, and reinforced through parliamentary decision in 2008. Swedish forest policy builds to a large extent on voluntariness and is often summarized in the wording “freedom with responsibility”. This means that forest owners have a liberty of choice regarding management of the forests, within the frames set by the forestry legislation and other relevant legislation. However, with this freedom of choice also come responsibilities. What is referred to as “sectoral responsibility” implies that preservation of valuable natural- and cultural environments is regarded as a common responsibility of the forestry sector and concerned authorities. In practice, this is for example seen in considerable areas being set aside voluntarily by forest owners for conservation purposes, without economic compensation by the state. A large number of forest companies and private forest owners have also chosen to certify their forestry to any or both of the two forest certification systems applied in Sweden, the FSC and the PEFC.
As for Sweden’s environmental policy, the overall aim is to hand over, by 2020, a society in which the major environmental problems facing the country have been solved. To that end, the Parliament has established 16 overarching environmental quality objectives, which shall guide the development towards this goal. Some of these objectives affect the forestry sector, in particular the objective “Sustainable forests”. Progress towards achieving these objectives is monitored on a regular basis.
The Forestry Act regulates the usage of forests
Usage of forests is principally regulated by the Forestry Act which sets out the demands placed upon forest owners by society. These include for example the requirement to notify forest felling to the Forest Agency, to reforest after felling, and to show consideration for natural- and cultural values at forestry operations. Apart from the Forestry Act, parts of the Environmental Code, as well as other legislation, is also applicable to the forestry sector. The Forest Agency is responsible for supervising compliance with the Forestry Act and those parts of the Environmental Code applicable to forestry.
The standing volume in Swedish forests is increasing
Exploitation of forest resources has a very long history in Sweden. In earlier times, many forests were overexploited for purposes like logging for domestic timber and fuelwood use, cattle grazing, charcoal production for the mining industry, and latterly logging for sawmill- and pulp industries. By the end of the nineteenth century, large areas of forest had actually been depleted. In order to come to terms with this situation, the Swedish Parliament passed the first Forestry Act in 1903, containing provisions which required land owners to replant after forest felling. The trend of depletion was thus reversed. Since the 1920’s (when forest surveys were first initiated), the total standing volume in Sweden's forests has increased significantly.
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