Local partnership for mutual benefit
We observed many examples in Finland, Sweden and Norway of partnerships between local foresters, enterprises such as sawmills, energy companies, local authorities and a range of experts coming together to create new district heating or biogas and biofuel systems. Typically, these entities use waste timber and thinnings, as well as municipal biowaste and other raw materials. Using this methodology, they are developing a local ‘circular economy’ to the good of the environment, people and local economies.
Local authorities commonly play a crucial role in such processes. First of all, they can provide the rationale and the motivation to create a ‘green brand’ or ‘sustainable label’ for their local communities, for example, through a strategy of relevant activities and competence. Second, they can get the stakeholders together by identifying local actors and interests and creating space and encouraging these actors to engage in a collective learning effort.
They can go on supporting such groups into appropriate partnerships to plan and invest, and helping to gain support and acceptance of the local community. Where there are information and knowledge gaps – for example on technicalities of transformation of waste to heat – they can identify people and institutions that can fill the gaps.
Most importantly, local authorities can help to build stable markets for bioenergy through their own heating choices for public buildings – offices, schools, meeting places, hospitals – through regulations for new homes and other buildings, and through investment in the central network of district heating pipes. They can also prepare tender documents in ways that help local enterprises. In these and other ways, local authorities can create a more secure and long-term climate for investors in bioenergy and other related activities.
In the wider bioeconomy context, local authorities can map the existing industrial side streams and by-products in the region in order to increase utilization of industrial waste as a substitute for raw materials by creating connections and industrial symbiosis between companies in the region.
This may contribute to developing new business opportunities based on collaborations between forestry and other industries, as in the Örnsköldsvik Industrial Symbiosis. Such collaborations can also create local research funding for the development of innovative technologies alongside applied research and linkages to high schools and universities.
Empowering local entities to reach global goals
Examples from Norway, Finland and Sweden shine a bright light on the pathway towards a sustainable bioeconomy in which local authorities are not just ‘players’ but form the keystone in building that future. Without clear and motivated action by the local authorities, the bioeconomy simply will not happen. Either local people will oppose it because to them the costs exceed the local benefits, or the essential elements for its development and adaptation will be absent.
National climate, bioenergy, forestry, energy, local development, and local government policies need to recognize this. This requires a ‘joined up’ approach by the national public authorities, and an enabling and empowering approach towards the local authorities. The bioeconomy is of course about ‘science’, but it is also crucially about locally embedded people and institutions.
The Nordic countries account for about one-third of European forest resources. They are leaders in renewable energy, CO2 taxation, bioenergy, and the development of a bioeconomy as at least a partial replacement for fossil fuels. Thus, they are important for the development of the European low carbon economy and the circular bioeconomy. Their context, interests and concerns mean that it is important that they work together in EU and international negotiations that affect the overarching policy framework shaped by the Climate Agreements and the EU’s climate and energy policies and regulations.
Forests and forest industries are important for Nordic rural and regional development, especially in peripheral regions. They are set to become even more important in the transition from a fossil-fuel economy to a bioeconomy. As managers of the forests’ bioresources and as residents in rural areas, it is crucial that the rural regions and localities get their fair share of the benefits from this development.
EU and national policy-makers have to recognize the need for an enabling framework where specific regional and local conditions can be taken into account, local authorities are empowered, and local initiative can flower. A rigid, top-down, ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to natural, economic and social conditions may hamper the transition.
Interview with Erik Eid Hohle CEO Energigården / The Energy Farm Center for bioeconomy in Norway
In the TRIBORN study you focused on the role of local development, why did you find the local level important?
Through some decades of work within the bioenergy sector I have experienced that bioenergy projects in most cases are initiated by local initiatives and stakeholders. The ripple effects of bioenergy projects are often clearer to see on a local level.
What can bioeconomy offer to regions and local development? Is there future potential?
There is for sure a future potential, but I believe a sustainable bioeconomy is dependant on strong value chains and interactions between the different biobased products. Food-production, products from the wood-industries etc. all create large volumes of by products than can and should be used for bioenergy production. This will gain all the biobased productions, and make them more sustainable in both economic and ecological terms. At the same time this will create more jobs within refining biomass in general on a local level.
What would you say is a good starting point for a region when they wish to renew their governance or find new solutions for industries ( e.g. support bioeconomy)?
The region needs to define and organize the local initiatives and stakeholders from the start, either they are representing the public, agriculture and forest interests, industries and others that are needed to take the bioeconomy production further. Roles and tasks must be well defined and distributed.
What was the main factor holding back innovation and new solutions when you studied the rural areas of Norway?
Lack of national support programs and regulations that could stimulate local stakeholder groups, attract green capital and investors and attract the education and research institutions to enter this market. Local and regional interest groups need longterm based support and predictable conditions from the national authorities and political sector if they want the bioeconomy sector to grow.
Did you find significant differences in advancing regional bioeconomy if you compare the Norwegian examples to other Nordic countries?
Unfortunately yes; Norway has lacked the support the other Nordic countries have had from the central authorities in this sector. This is mainly due to factors mentioned in the above answers. Lack of national level support can of course also be explained by Norway’s rich energy resource situation based on hydropower, mineral oil and natural gas. Norway has because of this a longer way to go than our Nordic neighbours in order to reach the bioeconomy goals. Through programs well coordinated by the national
and regional stakeholders we can succeed, but it will take some more time to reach these goals compared to our neighbour countries.