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World’s forests are gaining a new political role in the era of climate change. They are a crucial part in the global endeavour to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Along with such measures as cutting down rapidly the greenhouse gas emission caused by the fossil economy, forests are expected to function as global carbon sinks that suck carbon from the atmosphere. During the next few decades, the capacity of forests to work in this role on a global level needs to be carefully regulated, strengthened and sustained.
In this context, boreal forests draw special attention. Since they grow slower than, for example, their southern counterparts, storing back to the forest the amount of carbon dioxide released during tree cutting takes several decades or even more than a century. This re-frames the conditions for boreal forest use. If boreal forests are expected to play their part in the next decades’ ‘herculean task’ of global climate measures, their sinks need to grow, not diminish, and the commercial use of forests needs to shift to forms that store carbon for decades to come.
This new forest use frame, brought to public by climate scientists, caused an intense debate in Finland during the year 2017. Climate and forest researchers expressed their concern that Finland’s forest utilization plans would accelerate climate change. This scientific knowledge was faced with enormous criticism, expressed by the representatives of the forest industry and members of the centre-right government. Several discursive strategies were used to frame the Finnish forest use as sustainable, most important being the flexible concept of ‘bioeconomy’.
Simultaneously, the question had world political implications, when the European Union revised its position on the role of forests as part of its climate policy. The scientific stance on the essential role of forests as carbon sinks gained support among other EU countries. Thus, the Finnish government and representatives of the forest industry engaged in aggressive lobbying on the EU level. Finally, when the EU’s decisions on land use and forestry were presented, their economic impacts were celebrated as a victory by the Finnish government and industry, although doubts have been expressed on what the decisions mean for the future of Finnish forestry.
Based on the wide material collected from Finnish media, we will analyse how the scientific knowledge of forest’s role in climate policy was received and reframed in public discussion during the year 2017. We put critical focus on the concepts of bioeconomy and sustainability as a political discursive strategy to legitimize the extractivism of boreal forests.
Keywords: forests, climate change, bioeconomy, carbon sinks