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Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way
WEB MAGAZINE - June 2019

Nordic countries boost the bioeconomy in the shadow of climate change

The summer of 2018 will be remembered for unusual weather phenomena in the Nordics. Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark were all hit by severe droughts, causing the worst forest fires in Sweden in modern times and considerable harvest losses in agriculture. At the same time, Iceland had the wettest summer in history, creating very different but equally serious problems for farmers. These events resulted in an estimated loss of around €2.7 billion.

Severe droughts are not a future issue in the Nordic Region, they’re an issue we must tackle here and now

“This shows us that the climate crisis is already affecting our primary industries and the consequences are real and severe,” says Torfi Jóhannesson, Senior Advisor at the Nordic Council of Ministers. “We’re experiencing more extreme weather events all around the region, and we might very well start seeing the so-called 100-year weather events every five or ten years now.”

In response to this new reality, Nordic countries have set up a task force to identify ways to strengthen the resilience of agriculture and forestry in the region. With regards to agriculture, the task force focuses on water management, more resilient crops and strategies for dealing with extreme weather events while, in forestry, the focus is naturally on reducing the risk of forest fires and preventing them from spreading.

“We were quite lucky that forest fires similar to those in Sweden didn’t occur in Norway and Finland, too,” says Jóhannesson. “More than 2,000 forest fires were put out in Norway last summer before they spread. Severe droughts are not a future issue in the Nordic Region, they’re an issue we must tackle here and now.”

Great opportunities in wood construction

In 2018, the Nordic countries adopted the Nordic Bioeconomy Programme – 15 Action Points for Sustainable Change. One of the prominent ongoing bioeconomy projects is Wood in Construction, aiming to promote the use of wood in large industrial construction projects. Initiated in 2018 by the Swedish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, the project is hosted by EIT Climate-KIC.

According to project manager Anders Vestergaard Jensen, there are good reasons to reshape the construction industry. Construction currently accounts for approximately one-third of total global emissions, 40% of energy consumption, and 50% of all extracted materials. The project touches upon many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), notably SDG 11 on sustainable cities and SDG 12 on sustainable production and consumption.

“Building in wood is far more sustainable than building in steel and cement, and it also saves time and money,” he explains. “As much of the construction can be done offsite, the onsite construction process is much faster. This is particularly important when you’re building in cities.”

We’re delighted to see that construction companies are pushing back the boundaries for building in wood


The Nordic Council of Ministers recently published Wood in Construction – 25 Cases of Nordic Good Practice, which introduces the key trends identified by the project regarding wood construction in the region. Many of the buildings are designed to accommodate multi-purpose use over time, which is easier to achieve with wood than with other materials. One of the projects featured in the publication is the world’s tallest timber tower, Mjøstårnet in Norway, at 85.4 metres.

“We’re delighted to see that construction companies are pushing back the boundaries for building in wood. They’re designing the buildings for disassembly and circularity to a larger degree, and we also see that they’re investing in scalability, to position themselves on this emerging market. Wood is one of the only renewable sources you can build with, and if you do it right, there’s a lot of potential to reduce emissions and the need for non-renewable materials.”

Exploring the opportunities of the bioeconomy

According to Anniina Kristinsson, Senior Advisor for Sustainable Development at the Nordic Council of Ministers, Wood in Construction has significant potential to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs.

“In the Nordic Region, we’re especially challenged when it comes to SDG 12, Sustainable Consumption and Production, and SDG 13 on Climate Action. The circular bioeconomy can be a very powerful tool in addressing these issues,” Kristinsson says. She reminds of the need to look at all 17 SDGs holistically. “In creating new solutions, we must also ensure that we don’t create new problems. For example, when it comes to our forests, it’s important that we act with great respect for biodiversity and ecosystem stability.”

Following the success of New Nordic Food, we’ve seen many inspiring examples of food becoming a destination in itself

The bioeconomy is prominent in the Icelandic Presidency programme for the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2019, which includes projects on blue biorefineries and Nordic culinary tourism that are based on previous cooperation in the Nordic bioeconomy. The programme has three key priorities: youth, sustainable tourism and the ocean.

“The programme has three key priorities: youth, sustainable tourism and the ocean,” says Geir Oddsson, Senior Adviser at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iceland. “Following the success of New Nordic Food, we’ve seen many inspiring examples of food becoming a destination in itself, not least in rural areas. Our aim is to explore how we can create attractive destinations based on the distinctive features and food traditions of each area and innovation in food production. We see this as one of the ways to contribute to sustainable production and consumption in the Nordic Region.”

Strong focus on the ocean

“When it comes to climate change, our oceans have an important role to play,” says Bjørn Tore Erdal, Senior Advisor at the Nordic Council of Ministers. “The blue bioeconomy holds the key to many of the most pressing challenges of our time, such as ensuring an adequate supply of nutritious food for a growing population and meeting the demand for sustainable products, such as pharmaceuticals, textiles and other materials.”

One of the key objectives of the Icelandic Presidency programme is to further develop demonstration facilities for blue biorefineries, which is one of the action areas highlighted in the Nordic Bioeconomy Programme. Biorefineries are technologies and production methods that optimise the utilisation and value creation from biological resources, such as by creating high-value products from side-streams and biological waste products from other industries.

According to Oddsson and Erdal, Nordic countries are strongly positioned to be at the cutting-edge of developing and producing a wide range of bio-based products from marine resources, and thus strengthening the competitiveness and sustainability of the ocean economy.

“We want to place the ocean front and centre when it comes to the climate change crisis,” says Oddsson. “This intention is reflected in our work toward strengthening ports in the Nordic Region and across the North Atlantic as innovation hubs and ecosystems. The key objectives are to ensure an energy transition in ports, moving away from fossil fuels, and ensuring full utilisation of marine biomass. One interesting showcase is the Icelandic Ocean Cluster’s efforts to achieve 100% utilisation of cod, for example by producing collagen from the fish skin. Ports and ocean clusters can play a key role in developing the blue bioeconomy, which is not only an important source of economic growth in the Nordic Region, but also contributes to a climate-neutral society.”