Can Finland’s forests withstand Chinese-driven growth?

Friday 26 Apr 2019

There are currently five major forestry-related projects underway in Finland driven, at least in part, by Chinese investment.

That’s good news to the CEO of a Finnish company involved in one of them. Heikki Nivala is the head of Boreal Bioref, a planned billion-euro biorefinery project in Lapland’s Kemijärvi, in the Arctic. A quarter of the funding for the project, about 250 million euros, will come from Chinese investors.

Nivala, a nationally-recognised champion of the forestry industry, said he doesn’t agree with researchers who’ve issued warnings about Chinese advancements and investments in the country’s forests. “We have plenty of forest here. The growing stock is young, the forests are growing quickly and need to be thinned,” he said.

“We are just about ready,” he said of the project. “The only things we need now are environmental and building permits, the plant will be built in 30 months,” Nivala explained.

Nivala spearheaded a grass-roots protest movement after paper firm Stora Enso announced it was shutting down a cellulose plant in Kemijärvi in 2007. The facility was closed the following year, but the town’s – and Nivala’s – name continues to be remembered by many in the country, including lawmakers.

The town suffered many job cuts when the factory closed, but because of the prospect of Chinese investments, Boreal Bioref has estimated that its planned facility will bring 1,000 new jobs to the little community. The firm has already inked contracts of intent with the Chinese and the facility’s environmental permit application is expected to be processed this spring.

Not everyone is excited about increased activity in the forestry industry. Jakob Donner-Amnell is one of them. He’s a history and geography studies researcher at the University of Eastern Finland, has studied the forest industry’s past, present and future – and said he is worried about looming growth in the industry.

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