Complex policies of the energy use of forests

13.5.2014 at 10:13

Teijo Rytteri

In 2010 the Finnish Parliament accepted a legislation which was aimed to increase the energy use of wood and decrease the use of coal. However, this legislation accepted by Finnish Parliament was never put into effect due to forest industry resistance and the EU state subsidy principles. In 2013 it became also obvious that for the energy industry it was much cheaper to burn coal rather than wood. I like to analyze profoundly how and why this bioenergy policy failed.

My interpretation is based on complexity theory, which argues that social and political actions generate unforeseen consequences and emergent properties that emanate from policy actions in unpredictable ways. This aspect points out the unknowable nature of the outcomes of policy. Complexity theory concepts like path dependency, emergence and feedback can be deployed to interpret policy failures.

A previous case study on small scale wood subsidies has shown how implementations of EU bioenergy policies have been in trouble in Finland because of path dependencies of forest and energy policy and unsuspected events. Supports of forest industry raw material and energy supply have been a path followed by Finnish government, and as a consequence, this policy has set limits to energy use of wood. Some actors in the political field have supported energy use of wood, local energy production and decentralization, but support for that policy has been limited because of a suspected threat to forest industry competitiveness.

However, there have been also unsuspected events which have modified bioenergy policy. For example, in beginning of 1990s the nuclear accident in Sosnovy Bor had an effect on public opinion, and as a consequence Finnish Parliament did not give permit to build a new nuclear power plant. This opened new opportunities for wood energy. Later sudden development of shale gas had an effect on coal prices, which decreased competitiveness of wood energy.

This analysis shows that success of policy depends on past decisions, and that history cannot be escaped from. Additionally, in whatever fashion policy is well planned and tuned to fit to the existing policy context, unsuspected events in economy, technology and nature can change everything. My conclusion is that the only way to handle this uncertainty is to keep many roads open. If one path is leading to failure, there should be an alternative path to follow. This implicates that narrow politics that support one way only approaches are always a threat.



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Teijo Rytteri


Blog by Teijo Rytteri about bioenergy developments in Finland

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