North Karelia – Oil-free Region

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We are living in the Europe of regions. At the local level, we follow the EU strategies and try to think on how we could contribute to those, and how to put them into practice at the local level.

The EU 2020 strategy calls for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The North Karelian application of this strategy is based on more innovative utilisation of our natural resources, and especially forest resources.

I will now structure the rest of this text according to those three aspects.

Three aspects

The first is the smart part. Our aim is to grow in a smart way by emphasising education, research and innovation. During the past three decades, since 1980’s, North Karelia, and particularly the city of Joensuu, has become to a centre of know-how in forest sector.

The initial stimulators were the establishment of the Joensuu Research Station of the Finnish Forest Research Institute in 1981 and the start of university education in forestry in 1982. The region is also home of the European Forest Institute which started its operation 20 years ago, in 1993.

Most recently, in June this year, the city of Joensuu, the capital of our region, was nominated, by the Finnish government, to be the center responsible for the coordination of bioeconomy related development activities in Finland. This is a great honour for us, and at the same time, a responsibility with a heavy workload.

 Then I go to the second aspect of the EU strategy, sustainability.

 We are aiming at building a low-carbon economy. Today already, it can be stated that North Karelia is a European forerunner in the use of renewable energy. Renewables cover 64 % of all energy consumption, including heat, power, private households and traffic. This figure is much more than that in Finland, which is 28 %, or that in the EU, which is only 9 %.

 So, almost two-thirds of the energy used in North Karelia comes from renewable sources – mainly from wood energy. We have, for example, many small-scale wood-based central heating plants in small towns and in rural villages.

 According to the regional climate and energy programme, the goal is that North Karelia should be completely fossil fuel free by 2030. It means that we should get rid of fossil oil in heating by 2020, and ten years later in traffic as well.

 This strategy was adopted three years ago, and for the moment, we are ahead of the planned schedule. One key milestone on our road to a fossil free future takes place very soon, within a few weeks. Namely, then the energy company Fortum will open a new bio-oil production facility in Joensuu.

 The bio-oil is distilled through a process known as pyrolysis. The new local bio-oil replaces imported fuel oil in heating. What is essential is that, there is no need for any technical changes in the heating system. The Joensuu plant is to produce up to 50,000 tonnes of bio-oil annually. This amount is enough to heat 10,000 private homes. This is more than what we need in North-Karelia: for the moment, we have around 7000 private households using oil-based heating systems.

 So, technically the change from fossil oil to bio oil in heating is possible. Concerning traffic, the technology is available as well. Thus, it is now a question of markets and policy-makers, whether people see it reasonable to change their practical behaviour.

 Then the third aspect of the strategy: we are growing in an inclusive way.

 This means that by creating an innovative milieu and investing in infrastructure, decision makers in North Karelia expect the forest sector to increase employment opportunities and to raise the economic benefits obtained from forests.

 The well-known large-scale industrial companies, such as StoraEnso, UPM and Metsä Group are all operating in the region. Another strong leg for us forest technology industries. Factories of John Deere and Kesla, manufacturing logging and hauling machinery, are located here in North Karelia.

 As to the employment generation, we believe bioenergy, mechanical wood processing, together with applications in material technology offer the most promising future prospects. For example, local firms here are creating innovative materials such as wood-plastic composites.

 The use of wood for construction must also be mentioned here. The local pilot constructions include the Joensuu Areena sports-hall and the Metla House, home of the Finnish Forest Research Institute.   

 In all, more than 5,000 people are earning their living directly from forestry, bioenergy and forest industries. It is close to 10 percent of our total work force.

 It has to be emphasised that it is not only the forest products industry or intensified use of forest resources, but also the multiple use of forests that can create new job opportunities and widen the occupational base.

Solutions and opportunities

To conclude, my message is that the role of forest is essential in aiming at smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Forests provide solutions for the challenges caused by climate change and increasing demand of energy.

At the same, forests provide opportunities for new entrepreneurship and economic development, which is good news for the people all around Europe.

Dr. Pentti Hyttinen

Region Mayor of North Karelia
Koli Forum 2013, Tuesday 17 September 2013 and
Davos WRF Tuesday 8 October 2013 in the session Towards Resources Wisdom
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