Western District agriculturalist Andrew Lang, a senior consultant to the World Bioenergy Association, said forestry’s role in fighting climate change had been crystallised by the visit of Finland’s Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, to Australia.
Mr Lang said Finland was a climate leader due to its native forest management and carbon sequestration arising from this, and development of its bio-economy, including biomass to energy and biomaterials.
“They are not into solar PV or wind turbines, due to the very high cost to the state of subsidising these,” he said, reported by GIPPSLAND Times.
Ms Marin, in an address to the Lowy Institute, said Australia and Finland’s common efforts were needed in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss through cleaner energy.
“Our national aim is to be carbon neutral by 2035 and carbon negative soon after that,” she said.
Mr Lang said Finland, with a productive land area about the same as Victoria, and a slightly smaller population of about 5.6 million, was a global leader in production and export of forest products. Forests make up 67 per cent of Finland’s 338,000 square kilometres of land; in Victoria, forests constitute about one third of the state’s 227,000 square kilometres.
“Finland is reducing emissions both by use of wood and other biomass for energy, but also by carbon sequestered in wooden structural, cladding and appearance products. The use of wood in buildings has been encouraged by government policy since 1990,” he said.
“It is reported that use of one cubic metre of wood to replace fossil-energy-intensive materials in structure, furniture and cladding of buildings can reduce CO2 emissions into the atmosphere by 1.1 tonnes on average.”
Mr Lang said Finland harvested about 60 million cubic metres of round wood every year, with most of this coming from private or family-owned forests, which make up about 60 per cent of all of Finland’s standing forest.
“This is essentially mixed native forest,” he said. Small roundwood from second or third thinning went to small sawlog milling, to peeler veneer production, and to pulp and paper mills.
“From final harvest, a higher percentage obviously goes to milling, but the rest of the tree still goes to these other end uses,” he said, such as energy production, either in the industrial processing plant or in smaller local or larger regional combined heat and power plants.
“Locally, smaller scale thinnings are chipped to fuel small heat plants in towns, industry and institutions.”
Mr Lang said the overall outcome of this use of woody biomass for energy, at all scales and as heat, power and even liquid biofuels, was that these sustainably managed, mostly privately-owned, forests provided a large single source of energy in Finland.
“Biomass, mostly as woody biomass, provides over 14 per cent of Finland’s power, over 30 per cent of transport fuels, and about 50 per cent of industry and residential and institutional heat,” he said.
When Opal Australian Paper first floated the idea of a bio-manufacturing operation—the waste-to-energy plant—its model was Finland’s Metsa Group’s $2 billion Annekoski Mill in Finland, which could make AP part of the growing bio-economy. The Aanekoski bio-products mill is up and running.
Mr Lang said Finland’s forests were closely monitored for growth rate and carbon sequestration, with forest holdings regularly surveyed and mapped.
“Most forest management is undertaken by the many regional forestry management associations, which are controlled by the grower members and which employ specialist staff, who organise and supervise thinning and harvest, and manage sales for their members,” he said.
“The forest management associations are paid by the government for performing many of the forest management functions that in other countries are done by employees of government forestry departments, such as monitoring for pest animals, supervising proper regeneration and replanting of harvested coupes, and issues of roading, drainage and fire control,” he added.
According to research, Finland’s forest industry directly and indirectly employs about 160,000 people, with multiplier effects into surrounding society. Forestry employs 15 per cent of industrial workers and accounts for about 20 per cent of all Finnish exports. Finland has about 130 industrial sawmills, 25 paper mills, 14 cardboard mills and 15 pulp mills. In 2014, they employed 22,000 people.