bioeconomy, bioeconomy debate, forest protection, international

When biocapitalism unpacks the chainsaw

Environmental organizations warn against an expansion of the so-called bioeconomy at Forest Movement Europe gathering

As always, it was a meeting in the forest for the forest. The annual top meeting of environmental organizations and forest activists, hosted this time by the Polish organization Workshop for All Beings in Białowieża in northeastern Poland, one focus was on a growing concern of the European environmental movement: The threat to forests posed by the bioeconomy.

Apart from its roles in climate regulation, biodiversity, and water balance, the forest is expected to become a significant source of raw materials for the future economy. Wood is already used as an energy source, in the paper industry, and as a construction material. In the future, it could also replace oil, gas or coal in the production of cola bottles, tar for road surfaces, and serve as a raw material in the chemical industry.

This potential expansion raises the possibility of extensive deforestation if the aspirations of the forestry industry and bioeconomy strategists come true. Consequently, denkhausbremen, along with project partners Fern and ELF, and other environmental organizations gathered at the meeting to gain an understanding of the situation and ensure that the bioeconomy is at least directed toward environmentally friendly and equitable paths.

Official government pronouncements often hail the bioeconomy as the new solution for the world. Consequently, billions of research funding are being allocated to explore how biomass can sustain our wasteful economy in the future. However, this approach seems to overlook the fact that many ecosystems are already overexploited, and biomass production cannot be endlessly increased.

Copyright all images: Workshop for all beings 

Johannes Zahnen and his colleagues at the WWF have conducted a comprehensive study titled “Everything from Wood” which assesses the sustainable supply of wood from forests in the future. Their findings reveal that the amount of wood currently harvested in Europe is already pushing forests to their limits, making further increases unsustainable. Therefore, if additional industrial uses of wood are being considered, alternative sources for this raw material need to be found. For instance, industrial wood burning for electricity production should be halted immediately.

Presentations at the meeting highlighted the expansion plans of the Finnish pulp and paper industry towards the bioeconomy, as reported by Otto Miettinen from the Environmental Paper Network International and Ville Kellokumpu from the University of Oulu. Similar concerns were raised by Lina Burnelius (Protect the Forests Sweden), Sommer Ackerman and Reija Mikkola (Luonto-Liitto), and Liis Kuresoo (Eestimaa Looduse Fond, ELF). These environmental activists emphasized the strong influence of the forest industry on politics in Sweden, Finland, and Estonia, signaling clear intentions for bioeconomy growth in these countries.

Ulrike Eppler and Jonas Daldrup from denkhausbremen provided insights into the German debate and the collaborative efforts of environmental organizations, while also criticizing the insufficient allocation of resources for NGO participation, despite its prominent mention in German government strategy papers.

Martin Pigeon from Fern concluded the meeting by discussing the interconnected lobbying structures between industry and political decision-makers at the EU level. He highlighted the one-sided allocation of research funds and referred to his study titled “In the Name of Innovation – Research and destroy: the factories of the industrial bioeconomy threaten the climate and biodiversity.”

Undoubtedly, biocapitalism is on the rise and poses a real threat to the Earth’s ecosystems. Therefore, it is crucial for civil society to remain vigilant and prevent extensive deforestation.