Finland eyes carbon sink, as forest industry expands

The role of Finnish forest reserves as a key carbon sink remains uncertain as the country’s forest industry has published one more expansion plan.

A major biomass production investment plan of Metsa Fibre, Finland’s major pulp and paper producer, was released last month. It has split political opinions, which further increases the complexity.

Prior to the plan being published, experts of the European Commission rejected the Finnish way of calculating the carbon sink values and asked for alternatives.

The Commission is to decide later the comparative levels of forest carbon sinks for the EU countries in 2021-2025. The expert group that prepares the decisions concluded that Finland had to revise its plan and submit a new version.

Besides the Finnish plans, the Commission experts also criticized the calculations from Sweden, Slovenia and Latvia.

Antti Rinne, the Social Democratic Party leader currently negotiating the ruling coalition, said that the Metsa Fibre’s investment plan “would fit” the Finnish climate change policies and his future government would probably improve transport infrastructure in the area.

But Green Party leader Pekka Haavisto said that his party did not agree with Rinne’s promises.

Internal Finnish pressures were recently reflected in the editorial of the forest owner affiliated newspaper Maaseudun Tulevaisuus. It noted that the new plan by Metsa Fibre will greatly help the new government’s employment policies, but “only if the government understands not to spoil it”.

Tuomo Niskakangas, a commentator for the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, said the forest industry plan created a problem between the social democrats and the greens “that could have unforeseen consequences”.

The Green Party was one of the election winning parties with their climate program. The greens confirmed on Sunday their interest in joining the government, but set effective climate policies as a condition.

Observers have noted the greens will now somehow have to find a way to explain that the planned investment falls within their political limits.

The high profile Metsa Fibre plan to build a plant in the northwestern city of Kemi would increase the annual wood consumption to 82 million cubic meters from the current 76 million. Named Polar King, the plant would produce 1.5 million tons of pulp per year.

Final decision about the investment is to be taken in 2020. Besides the newly announced Metsa Fibre plan, there are several other major projects pending on final decisions.

While the latest plan would not exceed the renewability level of forests, it would have a major impact on the calculation of carbon sink value of Finnish forests.

Sampo Soimakallio, a researcher of the Finnish Environment Center, told national broadcaster Yle on Sunday that the new investment could reduce the carbon sink of Finnish forests by a third from the present level.

Finnish forests are now capturing some 27 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. Accelerated usage of forest for the new investment would reduce the amount by 10 million tons, Soimakallio elaborated.

Soimakallio contested Rinne’s view that Finland could offset the impact through absorption of carbon dioxide into earth soil. Soimakallio said that soil absorption of carbon dioxide is at a research stage and there are many uncertainties with it.