Going Green in Europe

29 May 2020


Alexis Kuhl sets out the European Panel Federation’s position on the European Green Deal

On December 11 last year, the European Commission published the European Green Deal setting up the guidelines for the European Union to become climate-neutral by 2050. The Green Deal is composed of a set of legislative and non-legislative initiatives, amongst which several are of great interest for the wood-based panels industry, namely:

  • Climate Law (greenhouse gas emissions reduction aiming at climate neutrality for 2050);
  • Industrial Strategy (focusing essentially on the decarbonisation of energy-intensive industries such as cement, steel and chemicals while aiming at exploiting the full potential of the single market);
  • New Circular Economy Action Plan (focusing on products’ sustainability, recycling, eco-design, eco-labelling and waste reduction);
  • Sustainable Built Environment Initiative (encompassing the ‘Renovation wave’ for energy efficiency in buildings);
  • Forest Strategy;
  • Biodiversity Strategy;
  • Fitness Check of the EU Timber Regulation;
  • Review of the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS);
  • Review of the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) carbon emissions and removals accounting.

In February, the European Panel Federation (EPF) published and disseminated to key decision-makers in the European Commission and Parliament its position paper on the European Green Deal. The position paper proposes a set of concrete policy recommendations to ensure that the woodbased panels industry will be part of the decarbonisation and sustainability agenda.

More specifically EPF’s position paper calls for:

  • the guarantee of a level playing field and secure supply for wooden raw materials;
  • the use of sustainable bio-based products (such as wood-based panels) to mitigate climate change;
  • the cascade use of harvested wood products (use, reuse and recycle);
  • the promotion of climate-friendly products to empower consumers’ choices.

On March 10 and 11, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission published its proposals for the new Industrial Strategy and Circular Economy Action Plan.

On both topics EPF established ad hoc coalitions with other relevant stakeholders from the forest-based value chain and environmental NGOs to draft joint position papers promoting the interests of our industry while elaborating communication strategies to inform key decision-makers in the relevant Commission directorate generals and in the relevant committees in the European Parliament.

One of the actions taken was that, working together, the three sectors representing about 53% of the wood working value chain, the EPF, the European Organisation of the Sawmill Industry (EOS) and the European Federation of the Parquet Industry (FEP) drafted a joint statement on the disregard of the bioeconomy in the future Industrial Strategy. They sent this to all members of the Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) and the Committee on Industry, Energy and Research (ITRE).

Another action was that EPF collaborated together with the NGO Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) on a joint position paper on the New Circular Economy Action Plan and sent it to the Commission’s Environment Directorate- General as well as to some relevant Members of Parliament calling for development of a comprehensive EU strategy for wood based panels on the input from industry and other relevant stakeholders.

On the issue of the Forest Strategy, EPF is currently working with all relevant players of the forest-based industry (F-BI) sector value chain, based on the FB-I’s Vision 2050, as published in November 2019.

More concretely, within the framework of the Parliament’s own initiative report ‘European Forest Strategy – the way forward’, EPF submitted amendments and explanatory statements together with EOS and FEP to the Parliament’s rapporteur in the Committee of Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) and to opinion draft persons in the other relevant Committees to foster the possible opportunities and to address the potential concerns including, among other things, trade-offs between Forestry and Biodiversity Strategies; and market distortions due to subsidies for early energy recovery from biomass and carbon accounting.

Within the framework of Europe’s new agenda for achieving the transition towards a ‘regenerative growth’, there is a danger of too much focus only on the energy-intensive industries (EIIs), such as steel and cement, especially in the Industrial Strategy.

EIIs are seen as offering the greatest potential for atmospheric carbon reductions. In this context, the reintroduction of the Bioeconomy Strategy in the Circular Economy Action Plan is very welcome and is a genuine opportunity for bio-based products including wood-based panels to take the lead, given especially their opportunity to contribute to carbon removals.

EPF is putting maximum effort into this stream as it currently offers the greatest chance for legislative recognition for panels within the framework of the Green Deal.

Moreover, there seems to be a shift in the paradigm concerning carbon accounting that would likely go towards the accounting of carbon removals in bio-based products such as wood-based panels not only through storage but also through the substitution of energy-intensive and fossil-based materials during their whole life cycle. Harvested wood products will therefore finally be considered as key leverage in the fight against climate change.

In October 2018, the European Commission published a Bioeconomy Strategy for a Sustainable Europe, which highlighted the potential of wood in construction and renovation while stressing the additional potential from the substitution of other energy-intensive materials with wood-based products.

In the framework of a more circular and sustainable economy, the opportunities for wood-based panels are therefore outstanding. EPF believes that it is extremely rewarding to see the Bioeconomy Strategy back on the agenda within the framework of the New Circular Economy Action Plan. We therefore plan to leverage the attributes of wood-based panels, as highlighted in the Bioeconomy Strategy, to deliver increased recognition and support for our products wherever and whenever possible.

Due to the unique and regrettable circumstances in Europe since early March, many delays are to be expected in the implementation of the different policy initiatives and strategies, but EPF is closely following all developments and is in touch with decision-makers and all forest-based sector stakeholders and NGOs to foster enhanced co-operation where necessary.

The implementation of the Green Deal will be on the agenda for many years to come since there are many strategies and initiatives that will shape the future of Europe for the next three decades and beyond. A vigilant legislative watch is under way, together with an ongoing dialogue with the European Commission, the Parliament and all stakeholders including the forestbased sector, NGOs and other existing sector alliances (such as Construction 2050 and Industry4Europe).

Alexis Kuhl is the EPF’s climate and environment adviser
EPF is currently working with all relevant players of the forest-based industry
The implementation of the Green Deal will be on the agenda for many years to come since there are many strategies and initiatives that will shape the future of Europe