Speaking to Jornal Economico, Teresa Presas, Secretary General of the Navigator Sustainability Forum with 35 years of experience in the paper industry, noted that the bioeconomy already has a turnover of 41 billion euros and that the wood industry is growing significantly.
What conclusions did the Sustainability Forum reach?
The 16th session of the Sustainability Forum was dedicated to the topic “Sustainability of forest raw materials”, a topic of great interest for the sector and companies in the forestry sector, but also for building a more sustainable economic model. The session helped understand the landscape of raw materials on a global scale (and their increasing costs), the challenges facing the forest sector and, among other things, what risks and opportunities arise in realizing the potential of forests.
Although active management represents a key element in attracting and retaining companies and individuals in the rural world, and combating regional disparities and desertification at home, constraints on raw materials still exist with consequences for industry growth and, above all, On the development of the Portuguese economy. This session showed that the forest represents an opportunity that we might miss, even more so when there is a differentiating factor for Portugal as a country at stake, which has been proven over the decades.
Various forum participants stressed the importance of a long-term vision and appropriate positioning for a circular forest-based bioeconomy, with a regulatory framework capable of creating the necessary conditions for resolving forest structural issues as essential. It is important to clearly define the opportunities available to the state, and to support and encourage the private sector to develop these opportunities.
To this end, it is important that these types of meetings and discussions on the forest sector are held frequently.
The Minister of Economy said that the bioeconomy is “a necessity and an emergency.” What is the contribution of the forest to accelerating this economic model?
In Portugal alone, the bioeconomy already represents a turnover of 41 billion euros, with the forestry sector, largely supported by forest industries, generating 24% of the turnover of the bioeconomy (9.8 thousand million euros) and 11% of jobs (about 76.5 million job). According to the Bioeconomy 2030 report. This data clearly demonstrates the importance of the forest sector and its role in facilitating this development model and creating bioproducts from renewable solutions found in nature. Accelerating the production of high added value from biological resources, as an alternative to the use of resources of fossil origin, and promoting climate transition and sustainable and efficient use of resources, is not possible without forests.
We all know the advantages of a forest-based bioeconomy. We need a strategy to value the forest to realize its extraordinary potential.
We also cannot forget the forest’s contribution to achieving the country’s climate goals, given its special contribution to carbon sequestration.
But there is a shortage of raw materials to feed all needs. What solutions can quickly help meet the need for raw materials and contribute to the bioeconomy?
Today the forest has all the ingredients to be a “sparkling” activity. You have already become a major champion of renewed change. I believe that responsible forest management and the development of innovative solutions will allow this traditional raw material to play its role now and in the future. In other words, sustainable management of forest resources can enable one of the oldest raw materials used by man to become the raw material of the 21st century.
As one of Keynote speakers Event, there is no shortage of wood in the world. However, in many geographical areas, its sustainable extraction is not economically viable. On the other hand, demand for timber is increasing around the world, despite increasingly declining incentives for new plantations. In 2022 alone, 3.9 billion cubic meters of wood were consumed worldwide, and the trend is for this number to continue to increase. This is at the same time as new trees are being planted.
In Portugal, restrictions on raw materials also remain, as a result of restrictive plantation policies, which is strange in a country where about 98% of forests are private or community property. This shortage of raw materials is reflected in increasing imports, especially eucalyptus wood, whose value last year amounted to more than 375 million euros.
The availability of raw materials needs to keep pace with the current and future needs of the industry and to create new businesses and products from the forest. Increasing the availability of raw materials can improve the productivity of national forests by reviving and regenerating vast abandoned and degraded areas. It can also include forest enhancement policies that improve the area of planted forest alongside conservation forest. These areas, managed in a sustainable way, in addition to ensuring the necessary increase in productivity and resilience of the territory, will also generate so-called ecosystem services.
In our country, jungles and uncultivated areas occupy 12% of the land, most of which have no conservation value, and are collectively responsible for about half of the area burned in Portugal in the last two decades. These are areas that can be used differently. Why don’t we invest in forests and non-planted areas, and create a compensation mechanism where every additional hectare of planted production forest is equivalent to one hectare of protected forest? There is no shortage of possibilities.
In Portugal, there are still some beliefs and perceptions regarding eucalyptus trees, which are often only mentioned, and not for the best reasons, at the time of major fires. How do you view legislation on this type, especially restrictions on new farms?
I believe that environmental issues are emotional, solutions are technical, and decisions are political. Rather than focusing on ideological viewpoints, any forest policy should be in the service of the public good. The forest sector has the same goal as the government: improving the quantity and quality of forests. To achieve this, it is important to listen to those on the ground and understand that the forestry sector exists for the forest and needs it in excellent condition to continue working. To this extent, as mentioned by several speakers at the Sustainability Forum, legislation must be realistic and workable, helping to define the rules and strategy for achieving it. Only in this way can we transform the full potential of forests into their three pillars of sustainability (economic, social and environmental).
Unfortunately, most people only know about forests through what they read or hear in the media. There is still a lot of misinformation that generates a negative perception about the value of the forest, an importance that goes far beyond regulating the hydrological cycle, carbon capture and storage, clean air, or, among many other benefits, recreational functions. It is important to improve this knowledge among the population, and show that well-planted and managed forests, including eucalyptus, can play a very important role in the transition from the linear fossil model to a forest-based neutral circular bioeconomy model. Carbon and nature positive.
On the other hand, it is important to highlight the Portuguese forest as a source of wealth for the country and the creation of high added value, through the export of tradable goods, and its role as a dynamic factor for deprived areas and job creation. There are about 100,000 forest-related job opportunities. Universities also play a key role in promoting forest literacy and making forest-related careers more attractive for future generations. The solution is to improve the educational offer, through more comprehensive and multidisciplinary courses, taught by younger teaching staff, in coordination with various ministries. Only in this way will it be possible to increase the attractiveness and knowledge about this sector and, at the same time, encourage social and institutional innovation. This change in perspective has already begun at the University of Helsinki in Finland. To address a very serious problem in this sector, which involves labor shortages, knowledge retention, and the sector’s lack of attractiveness and cost, the University has taken action. It united the Faculty of Design and the Faculty of Business Administration with the Faculty of Technology, creating Aalto University. He created the dynamic and engaging ‘Pulp and Paper Course’ (this course was renamed Biotechnology, Biomaterials and Chemistry). Currently, this course is so popular that there are not enough places to meet the high demand.
Should there be a more modern law for the collection of raw materials, in order to make use of existing resources, in a circular logic of reuse, and not intensification of deforestation?
The loss of tree cover in our country is mainly related to conversions to urban, touristic and industrial areas, but also to new infrastructure (e.g., highways), as well as forest fires. However, forests remain the main land use in Portugal.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the estimated forest area approached 640 thousand hectares (about 7% of the total area of Portugal). Today there are more than 3.4 million hectares and 39% of our land, growth is mainly through planted forests. Significant growth occurred in the 20th century, through successive forest promotion policies, which saw the growth of areas of pine, cork oak, oak and, since the 1950s, eucalyptus. It was the economic valorization of forest products that encouraged this growth, in addition to favoring the social development of the population and the national economy, and stimulating intensive research and development activities.
In addition to timber for industry, there are many other resources from the forest that can be used. For example, the Environment Fund recently launched a Notice of Intent to support projects to provide a streamlined response to forest and agricultural waste, and provide nearby public spaces for temporary deposit and storage.
Regarding afforestation, what is Portugal’s bet for a more resilient forest?
Available information has demonstrated that stand structure (continuity of vegetation cover, proximity between canopies, for example), more than species, determines the extent of fire spread. This is important data that must be taken into account when developing forest policies.
We must be aware of the rural depopulation and small land structure of the country. But, if the owners get income from the forest, they will certainly take care of it. This is undoubtedly one of the best strategies for preventing and fighting fires. One solution to achieving profitability could be, for example, to define and register the rules for timber purchase and sale contracts to provide security to those who buy and sell and even monetize them.
Portugal is a forest country, but we need to promote a greater forest culture. It is urgent to define a plan for this sector – in the form of a kind of system charter – that helps clarify all the rules. The pathway may also include an industrial agreement, allowing forest patches to be reconfigured, ensuring their suitability for certain areas for reasons of climate, productivity or, among other things, environmental conservation.
In Portugal, we see the forest as a liability rather than an asset to be proud of. Just remember that our country is the largest producer of cork in the world and that Portuguese eucalyptus – pellets – has unique properties that make it known as the best fiber in the world for making different types of paper.
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