Transatlantic Webinar Highlights: Role of Forest Bioeconomy in Green Economy Transition

Transatlantic Webinar Highlights: Role of Forest Bioeconomy in Green Economy Transition

Embassy of Finland in Washington, D.C. and the Delegation of the European Union to the U.S. welcome you to view materials of our virtual seminar on the role of forest bioeconomy in the green economy transition. Full webinar recording is available too for your viewing.

On Wednesday May 27th the Embassy of Finland in Washington D.C. together with the European Union Delegation to the US gathered together decision-makers and experts from Finland, the EU and the US to discuss virtually the topic “Role of Forest Bioeconomy in the Green Economy Transition”. Read event recap below or watch the full webinar on the Embassy's YouTube channel.

The webinar was moderated by Director of the Maine North Atlantic Development Office, Ms. Dana Eidsness, and panelists included members of Congress, administrators and experts from the states of Maine, Michigan and Arkansas, as well as counterparts in Finland and the European Union.

Webinar materials

 

 

 

Finland’s Ambassador to the US, H.E. Kirsti Kauppi highlighted in her opening remarks the need to plan how our economies will recover from the current shock caused by the pandemic. There is a need and opportunity to make sure the recovery is green and stimulates sustainable growth. Kauppi reminded that the EU and US are striving to be at the forefront of clean technology innovation and would benefit from working even more closely together.

European Union’s Ambassador to the US, H.E. Stavros Lambrinidis took note of the EU biodiversity strategy and Farm to Fork Strategy that were announced just days before the event. The European Union is doing its part through the Green Deal to ensure sustainable growth. Ambassador Lambrinidis reminded that more than half of the world’s GDP depends on nature. Construction, agriculture, and food & drink will be in the focus when the EU looks to stimulate a green recovery.


Panel 1: A Policy-Maker’s Take on the Role of Forest Bioeconomy in the Green Economy Transition

The first panel discussed the tools that are or should be available in the policy-maker’s toolbox to better support the role of sustainable forest bioeconomy in the transition towards carbon-neutral economies.

Permanent Secretary Jaana Husu-Kallio from Finland’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry shared Finland’s experience of setting a national bioeconomy strategy already in 2014, which will be updated in 2021. Finland also has a national forest strategy with a long history of including stakeholders from businesses and land-owners to environmental experts. Finnish bioeconomy output in 2018 was 73 billion euro and amounted to 17% of the total economic output. Forest industry also forms over 20% of our export sector.

Panelists emphasized the links between climate change and forests, forests are an important carbon sink (in the US they offset about 12% of total US emissions annually), but forests also suffer from global warming for instance through increasing occurrences of forest fires, invasive species, pests and microbes. Healthy and well-maintained forests help to decrease some of these risks and make the most out of the forests carbon sink potential.

Husu-Kallio, supported by other panelists, welcomed more transatlantic cooperation in the development and promotion of wood construction, which can replace fossil-based alternatives and has the added benefit of acting to store carbon. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine highlighted recent work by the US congress to enable utilizing wood in construction of tall buildings. Pingree also commented on the need to leverage more funding for innovation in wood products and forest bioeconomy, singling out the 2018 Farm Bill and funding for US Forest Service programs as an example.

Congressman Bruce Westerman of Arkansas informed listeners of the work of US Congress to advance the Trillion Trees Act as the US response to this global reforestation effort.  Westerman emphasized the importance of maintaining a vibrant forest economy and helping forests keep their market value through innovation as the surest way to retain forestland. Healthy multipurpose forests should be a joint priority for all.

Maine’s Agriculture Commissioner Amanda Beal highlighted Maine’s commitment to climate action, also as a member of the US Climate Alliance, a network of states committed to the Paris Agreement targets and goal of climate neutrality by 2050. Maine sees a real opportunity in wood-based products and hopes to recover the momentum quickly as the economy picks up, and hopes to cooperate with Finland and other partners to engage in joint research, data and information sharing and creating shared market opportunities.

Michigan’s Natural Resources Deputy Shannon Hanna brought up renewable energy development as an area of interest for international partnerships, as well as sharing information on reforestation policies and best practices. Michigan is planning to host a Mass Timber Summit as soon as possible, after having to postpone the summit in April due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  Michigan is also looking to exchange information with Finland and others on forest inventory practices and monitoring of forest systems. Wood residuals pose a challenge where many US states would like to learn from circular solutions at mills in Europe.  


Panel 2: Creating a Business Case and Catalyzing Green Growth in Sustainable Forest Bioeconomy

The second panel brought together practitioners, researchers and business experts.

Peter Wehrheim from the Directorate General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission explained that about 2.5-3 million people are currently working in the forest value-chain across the EU. The EU Green Deal was Commission President Von Der Leyen’s first policy initiative when she took office and bioeconomy was enshrined in it as a catalyst for sustainable growth. Bioeconomy forms a building block for climate neutrality.

Natural Resources Institute Finland’s Antti Asikainen described the circular bioeconomy as the newest shift in Finland’s long history of wood industry. In fact, in the last decades Finland worked persistently on achieving a vibrant bioeconomy to reduce dependence on imported oil. Asikainen highlighted the importance of educating forest bioeconomy leaders. Many current plant managers in Finland were researchers who were running bioeconomy innovation programs tens years ago within academia. 

Donna LaCourt from Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development reminded that Michigan hosts the largest state forests in the US, most of them in the Upper Peninsula. The state has a timber and forest products advisory council coordinating efforts to, for example, creating value added to forest products. In this Michigan looks to cooperate internationally. Sourcing local wood and supply chain functionality is important and the state is looking for ways to develop production of mass timber from hard wood (predominant in Michigan). Michigan is interested in cooperating with Finland on exchanging information on multi-stakeholder strategies and the circular bioeconomy model, and also in attracting international exports and developing shared research projects.

Peter MacKeith from the University of Arkansas explained that the state depends highly on timber and wood products. The state has turned a challenge with surplus into an opportunity to create a collaborative platform between decision-makers, academia and private business owners to build a vibrant forest industry. As an example, a big project is about to begin to build the Walmart Headquarters in Arkansas from CLT.

Maine Department of Economic & Community Development’s Charlotte Mace pointed that the state’s new bioeconomy model is moving into implementation phase with workforce and investment attraction ongoing. Maine is working towards recognition for use of its wood fiber for under federal renewable fuel standards. Maine is undertaking strategic investment attraction for development of mass timber and benefits from close proximity to active building markets in the east coast. Circular forest bioeconomy also has enormous potential and global outreach on this is planned.

Jarmo Heinonen from the Bio-Circular Economy and Cleantech program of Business Finland explained that a vibrant startup scene targeting international markets was achieved in Finland in large part due to investments and encouragement from large companies. The textile ecosystem is an agile example now showing international results.

Panelists discussed that it is possible to produce everything you can make from fossil-based products from bio-based materials, but the weakness still lies in creating the right economic conditions. The EU is developing an industry toolbox to facilitate sharing of successful models throughout Europe.

In conclusion the moderator initiated a call to action and announced an intention to assemble an informal transatlantic forest bioeconomy network to continue discussions of themes where cooperation was welcomed, such as wood construction, sustainable forestry practices and policies, circular forest bioeconomy model and value creation and fast-tracking biomaterial product development jointly.

Maine and Finland are jointly planning a virtual trade and study mission to Finland in June. Moderator Dana Eidsness invited panelists and participants to take part in the virtual visit to hear how Finland transitioned from a paper and pulp and wood product economy into a robust bio-solutions and bio-products bioeconomy in just over 10 years. Registration link to be released, soon.


Background:

Finland recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the states of Maine and Michigan committing to work together in clean technologies and sustainable bioeconomy.

For more information, please contact: 

Ms. Heli Hyypiä

heli.hyypia ( at ) formin.fi 

Trade and Economic Affairs, Embassy of Finland in Washington D.C.

Climate Policy & Green Economy, Arctic