Tag Archives: EU

Lawsuit seeks to remove forest biomass from EU’s renewable energy directive

On March 4 2019, a landmark lawsuit against the European Union was launched in Brussels to challenge the new EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED 2). Plaintiffs from the five European Member States Romania, Ireland, Slovakia, France and Estonia are charge that the EU’s 2018 Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) will devastate forests and increase greenhouse gas emissions by promoting burning forest wood as renewable and carbon neutral. 

The legal case, which will be filed in the European General Court in Luxembourg, cites scientific evidence that wood-burning power plants pump more carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere per unit of energy than coal plants. The EU policy does not count the CO2 emissions from burning biomass fuels for heat or energy, making it appear that These methodas are more climate-friendly than fossil fuels. The plaintiffs are asking the court to annul the forest biomass provisions of RED II in order to render the burning of forest wood ineligible for EU Member State as they try to meet the renewable energy targets and subsidies. 

Burning wood in power plants pumps more CO2 into the atmosphere
(per unit of energy) than coal…

“The EU’s policy relies on the false and reckless assumption that burning forest wood is carbon neutral,” said Dr. Mary S. Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, and lead science advisor on the case. “However, scientists from around the world, including the EU’s own science advisors, warned that burning forest wood actually increases emissions relative to fossil fuels.”    

EU renewable energy directive in contradiction to Treaty of the Functioning of the EU

“The lawsuit we are filing today alleges the EU’s policy fails to comply with nearly all of the principles for environmental policy that are laid out in the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU, including that policy should be based on science, address climate change and embrace the principle that polluters pay,” said Raul Cazan, from 2Celsius in Romania, one of the NGO plaintiffs. “It’s hard to imagine a more counter-productive policy than burning forests for fuel.”   

Romanian environmentalist Gabriel Paun from  the NGO Agent Green supports the case as witness.

An overview about the details of the case can be read here.

“We’re in a climate emergency that the EU is exacerbating by treating forests, virtually our only carbon sink, as fuel,” said Peter Lockley, legal counsel for the plaintiffs. “This favored treatment is expanding forest cutting, which in turn is impacting peoples’ property, rights, and livelihoods. It’s vital that people affected by this damaging law are allowed to come before the EU court to challenge it.” 

Subsidies for wood biomass will increase logging, Europe’s last natural and virgin forests will have to pay the price… Image: logging in the heart of Romania’s Domogled – Valea Cernei national park based upon approvals by the state.

In accordance with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommendations for maintaining a livable climate, the European Commission has called for a climate-neutral EU by 2050, requiring the balancing of greenhouse gas emissions and uptake into carbon sinks, mostly forests by that point. Under RED II, the EU is required to generate at least 32 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 to help reduce carbon emissions by 30 per cent in comparison to 1990 levels.  

However, biomass energy is a large and growing part of EU’s renewable energy mix. In 2016, nearly half the renewable energy produced in the EU came from burning woody biomass and the demand is expected to increase with RED II.  

EU subsidies for wood biomass will increase logging of primeval forests

The case argues that not only the uncounted CO2 emissions from this biomass are undermining efforts to address climate change, but subsidies for biomass are increasing the demand and therefore the logging of forests in Europe and North America. The plaintiffs represent areas that have been hit particularly hard, such as the US Southeast, Estonia, and the Carpathian Mountain forests in eastern Europe where some of Europe’s last remaining primeval forests are being logged. 

The suit is being filed by plaintiffs from Estonia, France, Ireland, Romania, Slovakia and the USA. The plaintiffs are bringing the case based on the detrimental impacts from logging and biomass burning they have already experienced and anticipation of future impacts if financial support for bioenergy continues to soar.

“The transformation of the Renewable Energy Directive was the EU’s chance to deal with some of the most egregious problems associated with biomass bioenergy, such as increasing forest harvests and burning whole trees and stumps. On this they largely failed, so it is now up to citizens to take the EU to court and get this disastrous decision turned around” said Hannah Mowat, campaign coordinator at Fern, a Brussels-based NGO working on forests and rights. 

For more information about the case and a background on each of the plaintiffs, go to www.eubiomasscase.org.

The giant clearcuts in the Romanian and Slovak Carpathians are not only a disaster for biodiversity. They also threaten humans by increasing risk of flooding, landslides and avalanches. The large openings also degrade the forest soil and hamper forest growth.

 

EU-Parliament: Romanian government downplays logging crisis

Romanian ministers Gavrilescu and Denes disguise the massive problem of the destruction of natural forests at hearing in EU Parliament; EuroNatur and Agent Green provide GPS data of destruction sites.

During a meeting of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety in the European Parliament on 21st January 2019, the Romanian Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Environment, Graţiela Leocadia Gavrilescu, and the Romanian Minister for Water and Forests, Ioan Deneș, both denied any problems with legal and illegal logging in Romania.

Minister Gavrilescu declared that all protected areas in Romania are preserved and well managed. She said the Romanian EU-Council Presidency has, among other topics, the priority of biodiversity. She only came up with vague statements such as: “biodiversity needs to be something we are proud of, regardless of where we come from”. 

Romanian Minister of Environment, EU Conference from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

In response to questions by MEP Martin Häusling, the Romanian Water and Forests Minister, Ioan Denes, said that “what media is referring to is illegal logging”. He added that this “is not a generalized phenomenon. We are talking about illegal logging in private Forests where there was no proper sercives for guarding these forests. We have kicked off thematic specific and inter-institutional controls carried out by the gendarmerie, the police and other institutions in order to ensure a proper observance of the law and a proper circulation of wood materials.” 
He avoided saying anything about the large volume of (partly illegal) logging in state owned and state managed forests which occur in protected areas. He also did not react to the severe allegations by NGOs and the media regarding widespread corruption within the Romanian forestry sector.

Romanian Minister of Forests and Water, EU Conference from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

EuroNatur Foundation and Agent Green reacted strongly to the misleading statements by the Romanian government officials as much hard proof of the unfavourable conservation status of forests in Romanian protected areas have been comprehensively published.

EU must take urgent action

Romania hosts the largest remains of virgin forests within the EU, an estimated area of 100,000 to 200,000 hectares. These unique forests are progressively falling victim to greed, corruption and the negligence of nature conservation laws.

Gabriel Schwaderer, CEO of EuroNatur said: “Europe’s most valuable virgin and natural forests in Romania are being logged at a frightening speed. Even national parks and buffer zones of UNESCO World Heritage sites are not safe from the chainsaws. That the responsible ministers are downplaying and veiling this problem in front of the European Parliament is truly unsettling. We call on the EU institutions to take urgent action to preserve this unique natural heritage in Romania.”

EuroNatur and Agent Green invite EU officials to do bear witness to the logging

The NGOs have invited the European Commission and Members of the European Parliament to take the opportunity around the upcoming events and meetings in Romania to personally witness the devastation on the ground – in the national parks and Natura 2000 sites. Thus, they provide recommendations for eye-opening field excursions. The devastation can be even easily spotted, including through desktop analysis (eg. with Google maps).

Domogled – Valea National Park, Natura 2000 site and UNESCO World Heritage Site (buffer zone): Less than 50% of the forests there are under sufficient protection. In particular in the upper Cerna valley, logging has been approved by the state and is moving further into high nature value and virgin forests.
GPS data of damaging logging areas: 45°06’04.8″N 22°36’39.6″E (close to the UNESCO World Heritage site component part Iauna Craiova).

Rodna National Park and Natura 2000 site: Large clearcuts in ecologically highly sensitive mountain forests. 
GPS data of a significant logging area: 47°32’58.4″N 24°32’15.0″E

Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site: This is probably one of the biggest clusters of virgin forests in temperate part of EU. However, only a small fraction of these forests are under proper protection. Logging is even ravaging permanent study plots of scientists. GPS data of logging areas: 45°38’57.6″N 24°42’51.7″E or 45°32’57.6″N 24°47’01.7″E or 45°25’46.1″N 24°45’08.9″E or 45°26’57.2″N 24°34’02.8″E.

Maramures Natura 2000 site and Nature Park: This is certainly the worst site in the whole of Romania. Since the EU accession of Romania, entire valleys have been ravaged and devastated by aggressive deforestation.
GPS data of Romania’s largest logging areas: 47°42’17.5″N 24°55’40.0″E

Apuseni Mountains Natura 2000 site and Nature Park: Large scale clearcuts of huge forest areas.
GPS-Data of giant clearcuts: 46°30’55.5″N 23°01’06.5″E

Romania: How „woodchippers“ threaten natural forests and help with laundering of illegal logging

 

EU forests increasingly threatened by “bioenergy” – Fern report

Agent Green” investigator Andrei Ciurcanu could hardly believe what he found  in the middle of Romania’s Rodna National Park: A fully automatic wood chipper machine, cutting trees and instantly chopping them into little wood chips to be sold to „bioenergy“ industry. I’ts not logs any more leaving the national park, but many many unmarked (and therefore uncontrollable) pieces of wood. This makes it even more easy to launder illegal logging. Wood chips mainly end up being burned in the bioenergy sector – entering the atmosphere as carbon emissions and intensifying the climate crisis.

According to the new report „EU Forests in Danger“ by the NGO Fern bioenergy industry is becoming the number one threat to Europe´s natural forest remains. The EU wood processing industry is heavily pushing for the increased use of wood (also directly from forests, not just from wood waste) for energy purposes. They claim this is good for „climate protection“.

However, numerous scientists and environmentalists counter this by arguing that burning trees leads to increased carbon emissions and thus adds to the climate crisis. Regrowth of forests happens too slow to compensate the emissions in time. Therefore they call for improved protection of intact forests and expansion of woodlands – rather than logging and replacing natural forests with plantations.

Woodchipper in Romania’s Rodna National Park

Back to Rodna National Park. Agent Green Investigator Andrei Ciurcanu says, the use of this wood chipping device proves it being likely that illegal practices still happen on large scale, even in the forests of a national park. The wood thieves just use the official system of traceability (SUMAL) and its weaknesses: Romania still doesn’t have an online registry of logging depots, thus it is very easy to use the depots as a laundering places for getting illegal Wood out. In this case not only the depots are used to launder the illegal wood, but also to transform illegally cut trees into unrecognizable wood chips. Then the wood could be sold to wood processing or trading companies with official papers, giving the appearance of legality.

Woodchipper in an Romanian national park: illegally cut trees transformed into wood chips, right in the middle of the protected forest…

În Parcul Național Munții Rodnei lemnul tăiat ilegal este tocat și apoi vândut firmelor de procesare from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

Official investigations found illegal practices

The official investigations led by Romanian authorities (Forest Guard inspectors) in the area where the chipper was present revealed that a Romanian logging company was authorised by a Private Forest District to enter the National Park and received legal permits for „accidental logging“ (trees affected by windstorms and landslides).

Thus, the timber quality is medium or low. However, the investigators discovered that the company employees logged not only damaged trees but cleared the whole area. They found 91 stumps without a the sign for legal logging approval (hammer). The overall loss was equivalent to more than 10.000 euros. The illegally harvested wood was afterwards mixed with other logs and sold or transformed into woodchips. They attached papers, as if the timber was sold from a depot.

But the Investigators not only discovered illegally cut stumps. They also found out that in the Lala region (where the chipper was filmed) not one legal depot was authorized by the Romanian institutions. So all the papers used for transporting and selling of the wood chips were obviously forged.

In brief: the woodchipper was obviously also used to transform illegally cut trees into wood chips. The growing market for „biomass“ could make fishy practices like this more attractive and lead to additional forest destruction.

Basically the logging and transport company apparently wanted to avoid registration of the woodchips with the Romanian SUMAL System. This requires a mandatory online registration of all transports of logged wood from the forest to a processing factory or a depot located outside the forest with a unique SUMAL online code. They used only accompanying documents pretending that the wood was transported from a depot to a factory, which does not require an online code according to SUMAL and the romanian legislation.

This trick was intentional to hide the origin of the wood. In case of a police control it would have been impossible to see whether the wood was legally cut or not. During routine control the police only sees that the transport appears to be legal because it is accompanied by official papers.

The illegal logging is investigated now by the prosecutor and there is an ongoing penal investigation. Romanian TV reported about this case.

Which companies appear to be involved?

The official investigation led by forest inspectors revealed that the woodchips were made by a chipper owned by a company named Austroforest and the transport by Frasinul Ltd, both owned by a businessman called Traian Larionesi, important partner for Holzindustrie Schweighofer. His name is connected to different corruption cases investigated by the Anti Corruption Department in Romania. The forest inspectors also found out that the woodchips were sold by Frasinul to the big Austrian timber processing company Egger. The company runs Romania’s largest biomass power plant (83 Megawatt) in Radauti , where Egger also operates a huge sawmill. 

We complain about forest destruction worldwide.
But what about protection of forests on our own doorstep?

The EU in general is supporting programs to protect forests globally, through development aid, innovative trade work such as the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, and commitments to end EU consumption of goods that cause agricultural deforestation. Officials from all over the EU have been supporting calls on countries hosting large forest areas such as Brazil, Indonesia, DRC or Russia to halt excessive logging.

New report by Fern: EU Forests in Danger

But at the same time, less than one per cent or the EU’s forests are still in a primeval or very natural status. And many of these stands are not sufficiently protected. Even in the EU’s Natura 2000 sites old growth and virgin forests are being logged – legally and illegally. A substantial share of the harvested timber from EU’s last natural forest stands ends up in bioenergy industry. The NGO Fern published the report „EU Forests in Danger“ about the progressing loss of Europe´s last natural forests. Country reports from 11 EU member states (including Romania, Slovakia or Sweden) draw an alarming picture. Final conclusion: „we must also protect the natural and old-growth forests on our own doorstep“.

 

Save our Paradise Forests now! from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

See the full episode about the case of Rodna national park from the “Out of Control” series:

OUT OF CONTROL || Case #5 || Rodna Mountains National Park from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.