– An interview with Johanna Johansson-
On May 18, the Swedish parliament briefly announced a press conference gathering. To everybody’s surprise, it presented the first National Forest Program (NFP), a long awaited document outlining the Swedish government’s ambitions and vision for forest management until the year 2030. This comprehensive program addresses topics ranging from climate change to property rights. Most interestingly, bioeconomy is central. I wanted to find out more about this document and its vision for bioeconomy, so I talked to Johanna Johansson, a senior lecturer at Södertörn University in Stockholm. Johanna has been following these developments from the beginning and has some interesting insights about the new program. Here’s what you should know:
The NFP is a broad strategy
Johanna points out that the new NFP is more like a strategy than program. It confirms and reiterates the most important goals for forestry in Sweden and the role of the sector in helping Sweden become a “climate neutral society”. It upholds the current Swedish forestry model. It also accentuates the significance of the forest-based bioeconomy and restates the importance of current policies like freedom under responsibility and private forest ownership.
” It outlines the government’s long-term perspective on Swedish forest use,” Johanna says. This is important for the government and future policy. So, it’s a strategy, not really a program. “If it were a program, it would have clear targets, assessment or evaluation guidelines, and would stress implementation. This strategy focuses on ambitions rather than action”. The government said they would come back with an action plan later. So far, they only mentioned two clear actions: evaluate gender issues following the #me too movement; and further accelerate satellite mapping of the national forest stock.
A strategy for all – “more of everything”
Generally, everyone can find themselves among the pages of this program. It mentions important topics such as climate smart forestry, rural development, but also talks about the need to harvest more while simultaneously reaching environmental targets. It adopts a “more of everything” approach: more logging, more climate, more services, more industry, more development, more equality etc.
However, although the program is quite comprehensive, Johanna thinks we need to discuss about the real trade-offs of this “more of everything” attitude. The NFP hopes to build on consensus among stakeholders and promises a win- win solution for all. But “conflicts will arise, mainly because of trade-offs between conflicting goals”. It is difficult to implement a strategy with this approach, where everybody wins.
Indeed, the program is written with all stakeholders in mind. Johanna considers it important to know who decides these trade-offs and who is invited to participate, but also how they participate. An example of such trade-offs is the discussion around biodiversity protection in Swedish forests. The trade-off here revolves around how much forest needs to be protected and how much forest owners are willing to compromise. According to Johanna, the Swedish government has promised to investigate these issues and assign a committee to look at the habitat directive and its implementation.
Sustainable forest management = Bioeconomy
“Simply put, sustainable forest management equals bioeconomy. It’s a new discourse,” Johanna observes. A passage from the NFP reads, “The forest, the green gold, will contribute to jobs and sustainable growth throughout the country and to the development of a growing bioeconomy“. It’s inspired by the Finnish bioeconomy program, which many consider to be more advanced that Sweden’s current bioeconomy strategy.
In fact, the Swedish government has no official bioeconomy policy strategy. Different committees within the parliament are still debating the need for a strategy. However, to date, the government has argued that there is no need for an official strategy given the many other initiatives that indirectly address bioeconomy. Among these, besides the new NFP, Sweden’s strategy for sustainable consumption, and the fossil-free Sweden initiative, all fall into this category. These different initiatives show that Sweden is already pursuing a bioeconomy.
Johanna considers that Sweden has good conditions for developing a sustainable bioeconomy, but it is not sustainable per se: “more than half of our energy comes from renewables, mostly biomass and hydropower”. There’s also the discussion about changing the source of the energy used in transportation. For example, Sweden just opened the world’s first electrified road for charging vehicles. So the forest-based sector is only one part of the bigger bioeconomy picture.
What’s different about the new NFP in comparison to the older governmental bill from 2007 is that it draws attention to newer issues such as climate smart forestry and equality. “Such issues were not addressed ten years ago. Then it was focused on climate change and intensified management”. Also, the new program puts a lot of focus on industry and innovation, especially on expanding timber applications in the construction sector. The calls for growth and active forest management “are not really new and were mentioned in the previous bill as well”, Johanna observes.
Elections this September could spell changes
“The NFP is just a strategy. It’s not a bill, no formal mandate. Anyone who wants to take it on can. It’s broad enough for everybody”. A green government can focus on environmental objectives; others may take it in a different direction. However, Johanna points that some stakeholders are very influential. The government has stressed that the program should build on collaboration between all concerned stakeholders. It is important that this will indeed happen.
Critics would point that this strategy doesn’t clearly specify which actions the government will prioritize. “The key question is how to interpret this strategy,” Johanna points. It is a teaser of what could come. A new bill will not appear until after the national elections in September. It will be interesting to see if this document lives up to its promises.
Johanna warns, “it’s a risky game, stakeholders expect a lot from this”. It took more than two years for this strategy to appear. According to some of Johanna’s interview partners, the governmental process was rather closed and the process lacked transparency. “There seems to be a clash between open-collaborative and closed-traditional governance approaches,” Johanna concludes.
With the new election around the corner and the high stakes and expectations regarding the new NFP, many hope for a program and a bioeconomy strategy that will work for all. How the Swedish forest industry can overcome these hurdles remains to be seen.
Johanna Johansson holds a PhD in Political Science from Umeå University. She currently works as Senior Lecturer in Environmental Social Sciences at Södertörn University, Stockholm. Her major research interest is in the policy design and outcomes of Swedish forest policy, particularly the role played by collaborative processes.
Johanna’s latest publication on the topic:
- Johansson (2018) Collaborative governance for sustainable forestry in the emerging bio-based economy in Europe