Estonia was, based on 2014 data, the 2nd most intensive forest economy of the OECD. Since then, the logging volumes have risen by another sixth. The OECD EP report shows the 2014 logging intensity as 91% — if the increment hasn’t risen substantially, we are over 100% right now. The increment value has officially risen, in fact, due to a change in methodology, which has been called to question by the National Audit Office. The Estonian Environmental Agency estimated in 2013 that the maximum sustainable logging volume (doubles for a climate neutral logging volume in that equation) for Estonia is 8,4 Mm3. In 2017 and 2018, the official logging volume has been 12,5 Mm3. The head of Graanul Invest — one of the richest individuals in Estonia, which comes with considerable political influence — has exclaimed that in his opinion it could well reach 15 Mm3.

The Estonian Forest and Timber Industries Association also supports the government’s plan of substituting large amounts of oil shale with wood, interpreting the 12-15 million cubic meters designated with the development plan until 2020 as an ‘aim’ instead of an ‘upper limit’, and seeing the wood-burning plan as helping to achieve this aim (12,5 million cubic meters was logged in 2017, and in 2018, probably more) They also say that once they have been granted that possibility, it shouldn’t be taken away from them to ensure stability. They are also aware of the probable LULUCF penalties, but hope that the profits from the industry will be greater.

The EU Biodiversity Strategy 2020 interim report estimated that the EU-s forestry as a whole is unsustainable biodiversity-wise, and a recent climate action progress report by the European Commission noted that the entire EU’s forest carbon sink is declining. It stands to reason that those problems are felt most intensely at the parts of the EU with the most intensive forest economy. 

The Commission’s EU Reference Scenario 2016 Energy, transport and GHG emissions Trends to 2050 projects that the country’s forests will turn from a sink into a source of emissions between 2005 and 2030.

And here’s an assessment of the conditions of the forest ecosystems (in Estonian) by the Estonian Environmental Agency. It says that most of the forest bird indicators have decreased noticeably, whose main reason is cited as habitat loss. The Habitats Directive forest habitats are cited as “haven’t improved since the last report yet”.

The total amount of Estonian wood used in energy is estimated from 50% (Estonian Environmental Agency) to 72% (Private Forest Centre). It is most likely that the 50% figure is wood straight from the forest and the 72% one includes wood industry residues. The statistics have various problems with them but those numbers do show trends.  

This 2017 Environmental Agency wood balance document says that about 50% of Estonian wood ends up in energy industry, and about 60% of that within Estonia, which means that 40% is exported, mainly in the form of pellets. Which makes exported biomass 20% of the total wood use, of which in turn, 58% went to Denmark in 2017, and 20% to Great Britain.

An audit report (in English, actual files can be accessed in the “files” tab) by the National Audit Office for the State Forest Management Center from 2010, deems state forest management to be unsustainable: “In the fertile forest types of forests outside of protected areas, old spruce stands (90+ years old) and old aspen stands (40+ years old) will disappear at the current rate of felling within the next 20 years. Old birch stands (70+ years old) will be depleted within the next 30 years. The situation is less critical with old pine stands (100+ years old), but they too will run out within the next 50 years.”

In 2018, Graanul Invest with its subsidiary Osula Graanul was the SFMC’s largest customer, purchasing 10% of the wood sold by the SFMC (SFMC Yearbook 2018, English). The SFMC currently controls 47% of Estonia’s forest area (used to control 37% back in 2010) and is responsible for about 1/3 of the logging or 4 Mm3/y, making the state the more sustainable manager compared to the private owner, but far from actually sustainable.

Graanul Invest’s subsidiaries own over 2% of Estonia’s forest land (Graanul Invest’s sustainability report, 2018, in English).

Between 2009 (introduction of the Renewable Energy Directive) and 2016, renewable energy production from wood grew by more than 65 per cent.

The current practice of mass scale biomass burning for energy purposes aided by renewable energy subsidies has been repeatedly denounced by the European Academies Science Advisory Council.

Graanul’s projects are mostly financed by the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.

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