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Call on EU Summit in Sibiu: Fight ecosystem crisis, save Romania’s forest treasure

In an open letter, EuroNatur and AgentGreen call on EU leaders to comprehensively protect old growth forests in Romania.

++ Final Conference of the World Biodiversity Council confirms the seriousness of the threats from global biodiversity and ecosystem destruction ++ One of the most urgent measures is the protection of old forests ++ EuroNatur and Agent Green urge the EU heads of government to finally protect the virgin and old growth forests in Romania ++

On the occasion of the EU summit on 9 May 2019 in Sibiu, Romania, the international nature conservation foundation EuroNatur and its Romanian partner organization Agent Green draw attention to the nature conservation drama in the Romanian Carpathians. In an open letter, they call on the heads of state of the European Union to put the continued destruction of Romania’s old growth and primary forests on the agenda of the meeting and to stand up for an to the logging.

“Since Romania’s accession to the European Union, almost half of the primary forests known so far have been cut down. Logging does not even stop at protected areas. All this is happening before the eyes of the Romanian government and the European Union, “says Gabriel Schwaderer, CEO of EuroNatur.

In the final report of the IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – World Biodiversity Council), which was presented on May 6 in Paris, scientists have once again warned of the alarming state of decline of the planet’s biodiversity. They agree that species extinction is no longer just an environmental problem, but that whole ecosystems are becoming unstable, threatening the foundations of food, clean water and fresh air. The protection of primeval and very natural forests is given a high priority by many renowned scientists.

Read more:  Opinion piece by Sir Robert Watson, the chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Giant clearcut in Romania’s Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site: IPBES reports warns about global impacts of forest destrcution.

NGOs challenge the Romanian Government at Aarhus Convention and EU Commission over forest logging disaster

Brasov, Romania (April 8, 2019) – Today, in a press conference held in Brasov next to the Conference of EU Nature Directors, the forest lawyer of Agent Green announced the launch of complaints against the Romanian government due to strong evidence of legal breaches of EU legislation in relation to the ongoing logging disaster in Romania’s forests. The complaints criticise systemic failures by Romania: Forest management plans including logging permissions within Natura 2000 sites have been approved before any environmental checks and public consultations were pursued. The formal complaint will be submitted to the European Commission and the Aarhus Compliance Committee.

The press conference took place at the same venue where EU 28 biodiversity directors met during the Romanian presidency of the EU. The officials were welcomed with protest banners by Agent Green activists and invited to watch filmed evidence of recent destruction of EU protected Natura 2000 sites. The footage contradicts the claim of the Romanian Government that all laws and regulations are adhered to in Romania’s forests A broadcast on Facebook exposed giant clear-cuts stretching over whole mountain slopes in the Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site and was shown to journalist and officials attending the EU conference.

Dezastrul din Munții Făgăraș from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

„The Romanian government enforced the forestry management plans within Natura 2000 sites before performing Strategic Environmental Assessments and the Appropriate Assessments as required by European legislation, and before the approval Order of the environmental minister was issued. The enforcement of the forest management plans before the environmental evaluation even started also breaches the Aarhus Convention, because public consultation must be realised before any decision was made, not after the plan was already enforced. We urge the EU Commission and the Aarhus Compliance Committee to turn this into a quick and hard infringement against Romania to halt the progressing large scale logging in many of Europe’s most valuable natural and virgin forests within Natura 2000 sites”, said Catalina Radulescu, Romanian lawyer partnering with Agent Green.

Romania hosts the largest natural and virgin forest heritage within the temperate climate zone of the EU. Several hundreds of thousands of hectares of these high conservation value forests are located within Natura 2000 sites, but lack proper protection. Thus, Agent Green and the Germany based EuroNatur Foundation are collaborating to document the systemic failure of the Romanian government to ensure proper implementation of the Natura 2000 protected areas network.
However, the Romanian government has denied access to relevant environmental information, meaning NGOs have not been able to give hard and detailed proof for the systemic implementation errors, which are clearly identifiable in many of Romania’s Natura 2000 sites. For this reason, no formal complaint for breaches of Natura 2000 has yet been filed with the European Commission.

„The destruction in the old-growth and virgin forests is clearly visible on satellite images and on the ground. In order to be able to file a complaint there is the need to provide documented evidence that breaches of Nature Directives are intentional and ongoing. But the Romanian government restricts access to relevant environmental information that should have been made available publicly. The Romanian Justice backs up this behaviour. So we are currently running 32 trials just to get access to the forest management plans. Having access to this documents is key to check consistency of forest management plans with the Natura 2000 management regimes to preserve listed habitats and species. Since the Justice ruled in some of the cases to keep this information secret we have no other choice but to escalate this case with the Aarhus Compliance Committee for violation of both access to information and public consultation pillars. We are confident that Aarhus will counter and correct the Romanian judiciary”, said Gabriel Paun from Agent Green.

Raising the Alarm for Romanian Forests from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

Romanian Transport Minister wants to override nature protection legislation in favour of roads and profit

Agent Green: Unacceptable attack on EU directives and Romanian natural heritage – during Romania’s EU-presidency

The Romanian government wants to water down national legislation in order to put profits, road-construction or resource exploitation above the conservation objectives of  protected areas such as Natura 2000 sites and national parks.

Agent Green has submitted a formal statement to the Transport Ministry which includes profound critique of this retrograde and unlawful attempt to override nature conservation legislation for profit. Today, April 1st, the deadline for amending the draft law by the Romanian government ends. The government’s legislative draft would allow road construction even in strictly protected zones within national parks and prior to the completion of any environmental impact assessment.

European legislation requires environmental impact assessments for any large plan or project (such as roads or dams) that could negatively impact the environment or human health. Furthermore, within the boundaries of EU Natura 2000 sites, appropriate assessments are mandatory in order to avoid significant deterioration or degradation of protected habitats and species. These assessments have to be based upon scientific data. Only after permission by the respective competent authorities can the plan or project begin. The new Romanian legislative proposal will allow the construction works to begin (eg.for roads) even before such environmental checks are pursued and permissions granted.

Gabriel Paun, founder of Agent Green, says the governmental initiative is “illegal and unethical”. Agent Green believes that infrastructure can be built without harming protected areas: “In the specific situations in which protected areas can not be bypassed, customized alternative solutions must be found. But modifying the law in a way to generalise the legalisation of illegal construction completely dismantles our obligations for preservation of our natural heritage. Last but not least, this is highly offensive to the public, civil society, scientists, the media and politicians who have created the current legal basis for nature conservation.“

The Romanian Minister of Transport Răzvan Cuc recently launched an attack against the basis of the nature conservation laws – as  quoted in Romanian media: “NGOs should go to other states to fight with teeth and to let us in Romania alone to make highways properly. I am the Minister of Transport, I initiate emergency ordinances that I think are appropriate to help with the implementation of the projects, to discuss with my other colleagues in the cabinet, we also take into account NGOs to say their point of view, but I will never block an infrastructure project in Romania no matter what power they think they have. If we want to make a highway we are always aware that we have bats, bears or frogs. We are talking about very important projects here such as Sibiu – Pitesti highway.” He said that he would never block an infrastructure project because of NGOs.

“This retrograde government initiative aims to dismantle EU nature protection legislation and comes in the middle of Romania’s EU presidency. This is unacceptable. The protected natural areas and the biodiversity they host represent a huge national heritage that can be underpin sustainable economic development based on ecological tourism,“ Gabriel Paun explains.

Destructive road construction in a Romanian Natura 2000 site

Here you can read a translation of the statement by Agent Green:

Regarding the Government Project for amending and the Law no. 255/2010 regarding the expropriation for public utility cause, necessary to achieve objectives of national, county and local interest, we send the following comments:

The modification of the law no. 255/2010, of article 24, is illegal and unethical.

Construction permits cannot be issued without proper documentation and therefore without legal permits. The technical and economic permits corresponding to each project phase – from technical expertise and feasibility study to execution details must be prepared and approved prior to the start of the construction and execution of the project. The modification proposed by the Government contradicts not only the legal provisions regarding the construction legislation, but also the European Directives for Habitats and Birds. The proposal has no logic. How is it possible to start a construction site/project and ask for permits after the construction is done? This is without any logic.

Also, we consider unacceptable the proposed modifications of the law 292, from 2018, regarding the environmental impact of public and private infrastructure projects.
It is not possible for transport infrastructure to be exempted from environmental impact assessment since it is known and proven that infrastructure construction works generate a significant impact on the environment. How is it possible that all of Romania’s finished infrastructure projects have been evaluated also for the enviromental impact (before the construction started) and now the government requests the cancellation of this official environmental approval phase?

With these legislative modifications, Romania risks disastrous effects on the environment and an excessive anthropogenic impact. Also, we consider that the modifications are inconsistent and break the European directives reaffirming the need for the environmental impact assessment 2011/92 / EU and 2014/52 / EU.

Also we consider unacceptable the changes of environmental protection through Government Emergency Ordinance (GEO) 195/2005. If the new paragraph 17 is approved, the project infrastructure engineer can change the route of the highway/national road at any time without being forced to apply and receive the necessary environmental approval. These modifications can drastically change the permit conditions without any analysis of the construction project. It is impossible to assess the overall impact of the project on the environment and its modifications.

We also consider unacceptable the proposed changes of GEO 57/2007. These modifications breach protected area legislation, both nationally and at the European level – inside nature protected areas the priority is nature conservation, with the exception of national security and health issues.

All modifications imply that priority should change from conservation to enforcing construction projects inside protected areas.

We strongly oppose the approval of construction sites inside protected areas and buffer areas inside National and Natural Parks. Romania has vouched in front of international institutions to protect and preserve these areas according to international, European and national legislation. These modifications are breaching two European Directives on nature conservation – 79/409 / EEC and 92/43 / EEC.

With disappointment and regret we consider that all these modifications clearly demonstrate that the Romanian Government lacks vision, holds total disregard towards environmental principles and shows that the mentality of Romanian government officials in general is an obsolete one, according to which protected areas represent a break from development.

Agent Green believes that Romanian infrastructure network can develop without harming protected areas. Of course for specific and prompt situations, customised alternative solutions must be negotiated and found according to the legislation.

But we position ourselves against the modification of the law by officials who plead for generalisation, when isolated problems can be solved promptly using already existing legislation.

These modifications offend the public, the civil society, the scientists, the media and the politicians who have created the current legal basis for nature conservation and now see that all their work is thrown away.

Protected natural areas and the rich biodiversity they support represent a huge national heritage that should be the foundation of a sustainable development of Romania based on ecological tourism alongside infrastructure.

I ask you to consider the observations and criticisms we bring to these modifications and to make the right decision.

Regards,
Gabriel Paun,
Chairman Agent Green

 

The planned motorway Pitesti – Sibiu could negatively impact the Natura 2000 protected old growth forests in Olt valley