Last December, at the UN Biodiversity COP15 meeting in Montreal, the world’s governments reached a breakthrough agreement to protect biodiversity, including targets to safeguard at least 30% of land and oceans, while respecting the rights of indigenous and local communities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has also highlighted restoring ecosystems, such as wetlands and forests, as a crucial part of solving the climate and nature crisis. But instead of finally rolling up their sleeves to make this happen, Europe’s decision-makers seem more focused on competing for the greenest image and using PR spin to pretend that the EU is already a leader in nature conservation.

A prime example of this is Sweden, the current president of the EU’s meetings of national ministers. Sweden may technically be one of the world’s most densely wooded countries, but that doesn’t mean it is rich in ancient and diverse forests. Its tree cover is in fact largely made up of sterile tree plantations of just two tree species, spruce and pine. This environment is unable to sustain the rich diversity of life which exists in natural forests. The country of trolls, Viking myths and Pippi Longstocking has more recently become very good at fabricating myths about the sustainability of its logging industry. In reality, forests are being turned into exported pulp and paper products and burned for energy at a shocking pace. 

The voice of the logging industry

As is traditional for the EU presidency, Sweden will soon host a meeting of Europe’s environment ministers. The government has granted a special exhibition space to the Swedish logging industry in the meeting venue, near Uppsala castle, where it is free to promote itself to visiting delegations. 

As well as greenwashing tree plantations and logging, Sweden has been blocking some of the EU’s most important new legislation to improve biodiversity protection in Europe. At the end of 2022, on the eve of its EU presidency, the Swedish parliament voted to oppose a landmark EU law on nature restoration. Just a few weeks ago, Sweden’s government announced that it would no longer support an EU climate law to increase the ability of forests to absorb and store carbon (the so-called LULUCF regulation) in order to “protect the forestry sector”

This is no environmental leadership and other EU countries should not be fooled by Sweden’s greenwashing of its logging industry. While the Swedish government defends short-term industry interests, many forest owners see the benefits of a different model and are becoming more outspoken about it. Interest in alternative forestry practices, like close-to-nature forestry, which supports the overall health of forest environments, is growing. Diverse forests are recognised as more resilient against droughts, pests, fire and storms. 

No more green PR

Sweden, just like the rest of Europe, is still seriously failing on the protection of the ecosystems that make life on this planet possible. The efforts of even a small group of countries to protect the narrow interests of one industry can have grave impacts across ecosystems and countries when they get in the way of political efforts to protect biodiversity and the climate. Green PR about the excellency of the EU’s meagre efforts so far doesn’t help.  

What people and nature in Europe need are decision-makers with the courage to call out fake sustainability myths, shift industries to practices more in tune with nature and adopt new, binding rules to restore and safeguard species and ecosystems in the EU and across the world. 

Carl Schlyter is the campaign lead for climate and forestry at Greenpeace Sweden