Janez Potočnik, ThinkForest: Forest policy can combine economic and climate policy goals

27.6.2019 / Article
“The forest debate must focus on how to integrate bioeconomic solutions into circular economy," Janez Potočnik said in Helsinki. Photo: Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva
“The forest debate must focus on how to integrate bioeconomic solutions into circular economy,” Janez Potočnik said in Helsinki. Photo: Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva

“It is important to understand that forest use should be assessed comprehensively in terms of economic, ecological and social sustainability,” said Janez Potočnik, the new chair of the European Forest Institute (EFI) science policy platform, ThinkForest.

The former European Union Commissioner for science and research and for the environment, Janez Potočnik, has been selected as the chair of its high-level science policy platform, ThinkForest. Slovenian Potočnik will succeed former Prime Minister of Sweden, Göran Persson.

ThinkForest seeks to bring together policy makers, researchers and stakeholders influencing forestry policy and to contribute to and sustain the debate on forestry and bioeconomy issues.

Potočnik stresses that the use of forests should be evaluated from the perspective of overall sustainability, and that both the debate and forest policy can combine economic and climate policy objectives.

“Sustainable forest management must be understood in terms of both conservation and economic activity. To enable the economic use of forests in the coming decades, they should be managed sustainably.”

Disseminating forestry research results to EU decision-makers is an important goal for Potočnik, who feels that more factual information about forests is needed. In this, the European Forest Institute has a key role to play and task to perform.

“I believe that one of the main roles of the EFI is to provide scientific answers to these questions to aid political and economic decision-making.”

“Forested countries understand the potential of forests”

Potočnik is chair and advisor to many international circular economy and bioeconomy organizations. He is a key developer of the circular economy concept and initiator of the EU’s circular economy strategy, and is well known as an influential link between the scientific community and political decision-makers.

Potočnik sees chairing ThinkForest as a natural extension of his earlier career and current work on circular and bioeconomic strategies. The European Forest Institute, in his view, has excellent comprehensive forestry expertise and insight into all aspects of the balanced and sustainable use of forests.

“When we are looking for ways to slowing down climate change and preserve biodiversity, worldwide use of the vast resources like our forests is right at the heart of the solution.”

He believes that forest policy plays a central role in climate policy. “You could say that everything done in forests affects the climate. Many people have underestimated this, but in forested countries such as Finland, old legislation has been able to safeguard the diversity of forests and prevent the deforestation that is happening in many parts of the world.”

“Forested countries understand the potential and capacity of forests, because this understanding is in our genes. We want to maintain a close relationship with the forest, since forests have a positive impact on wellbeing, for instance through recreational use or growing tourism.”

Potočnik sees forests as important for preserving the ecosystem as a whole; he says that forests are a real treasure in many ways. We can preserve the cultural and natural heritage of forests and produce forest-based recyclable products based on renewable materials at the same time.

Natura 2000, the EU-wide ecological network of protected areas is a success in Potočnik’s view. For example, in his home country, Slovenia, 37 percent of protected land is part of the network, while in Finland about 13 percent of the total land area is covered by Natura.

“Forests can ensure that future generations the same opportunities as we do. We should not manage forests simply to reap the economic benefits and leave the costs to others,” he says.

Forests enable the circular economy

Potočnik believes that forests are a major enabler of the circular economy. Sustainable forestry and its products offer the greatest potential for combining the circular economy and bioeconomy.

“The forest debate must therefore focus on how to integrate bioeconomic solutions into circular economy. Done the right way, this has huge potential.”

Wood-based products can replace many products based on fossil fuels, such as in the packaging and textile industries. Potočnik hopes that wood construction will grow quickly, because the wood in buildings absorbs carbon and acts as a carbon reservoir.

“I don’t think that all consumer products need to be replaced with renewable ones, since this would only accelerate consumption. First, we need to reduce consumption of products and goods based on fossil fuels, and then replace them with renewable materials.”

This article is published within the scope of the Metsämiesten Säätiö Foundation’s Forest Response media project, which publishes topical Finnish and European interviews and speeches on issues and new trends in sustainable forestry.

Markku Laukkanen

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