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Forests and climate: Blog

Białowieża forest struggle is symptomatic of a greater ill

As Polish authorities disregard national protests and international pressure to stop logging, activists face increasing hostility in order to protect Białowieża, Europe’s last primeval forest. Activists estimate that 600-900 trees are felled daily.

When the authorities recently tripled the logging allowed in Białowieża forest (FW 227) – despite the protests of scientists and citizens – international reaction was strong. Białowieża is protected under the UN’s World Heritage Convention, and noting reports of clearcutting and culling bison with ‘utmost concern,’ UNESCO asked Poland to maintain the integrity of protected old-growth forest. It strongly urged Poland to put an immediate halt to all logging and wood extraction.

Białowieża is also a Natura 2000 site, home to more than 150 bird, animal and plant species protected under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. The European Commission initiated infringement proceedings in June 2016. Failing to obtain redress, it referred the matter to the European Court of Justice on 13 July 2017, asking for interim measures to halt the destruction while the issue works its way through the judicial process.

Despite these positive policy steps, there has been no change on the ground.

Indeed, Polish authorities’ response has been belligerent and dismissive of international authority.

Activists attempting to monitor logging activities report that the forest resembles a war zone: harvesters are accompanied by an “an army of forest guards and police  – this is no exaggeration. It really is risky, and the guards have become increasingly aggressive.” Protesters’ license plates have been noted and their cars are followed by guards and police. Some 80 individuals have been sent letters by the State Forest Unit that owns the harvesters, holding them personally liable for losses due to blockades, which it places at 65,000 Polish Złoty (Euro 15,000).

Poland’s Minister of Environment Jan Szyszko issued a declaration in which he invokes wounded nationalism, objecting “to insults directed against Poland and the Poles” by external efforts to ensure respect for legal obligations. He dismisses the dispute in Białowieża as a difference of opinion concerning methods of conservation, and portrays Polish authorities merely as engaging in a more “active” form of protection.

His threats take the form of an invitation to those who would halt the logging – under the influence of “neoliberal organisations” spreading “false information” through a “press with leftist and liberal leanings” – to provide their personal information so that they can be held financially responsible when conservation methods are compared, noting that a 2016 inventory of protected species cost approximately Euro 1.2 million. Scientists, UNESCO representatives, European ministers of environment, and European Commission officials received letters with a similar message.

Beyond the destruction of future generations’ natural heritage, Poland’s antagonistic stance threatens the rule of law. Both chambers of Parliament recently approved a law that hands control of the nation’s Supreme Court to the Minister of Justice by allowing him to dismiss its judges at will.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council and former Polish Prime Minister, sounded the alarm about the ruling Law and Justice Party’s march toward authoritarianism. Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former President Lech Wałęsa condemned the move, urging a crowd in Gdańsk to “use all means to take back what we achieved for you.” Borys Budka, former Polish Minister of Justice, called the ‘reform’ the “biggest fraud in the history of the Polish Parliament.” President Duda has vetoed portions of this ‘reform’ but announced that he will approve the aspect that allows the Minister of Justice to dismiss heads of lower courts and influence their decisions.

Addendum: On 28 July 2017 the Court granted interim relief in the matter, requiring a halt to logging in order to prevent "serious and irreversible damage" until the case can be decided

The future is uncertain on many levels. The EU is weighing use of Article Seven, an unprecedented move that could lead Poland to lose its voting rights in the Council of Ministers. As for Białowieża, an annex to the management plan is being prepared that would allow still more logging, and given Polish authorities disdain for both national and external legal processes, the effect of any European Court of Justice ruling is uncertain. Chillingly, the extreme-right National Radical Camp has just launched a call for youth to patrol the forests searching for what they call ‘terrorists’ – the activists brave enough to uphold the law on the ground. 

 

Blog: Aviation industry's carbon offsetting plans keep flying into trouble

by Julia Christian

Keeping global warming below 1.5°C - which the Paris Agreement strives to – means fundamental changes for industries from energy to transport. Yet the aviation sector - one of the planet’s biggest emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2) - is trying to avoid making changes.  If it were a country, aviation would be the world’s seventh largest emitter. So the challenge to reduce its emissions is urgent. The response so far from the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has been to actually propose an increase in flying.

ICAO released its plan to make aviation sustainable in September 2016. Instead of getting the sort of fanfare the Paris Agreement received, its plans were met with shock and horror. Despite small positive steps such as introducing more fuel-efficient planes, the main thrust of their plan was to use the widely discredited tools of offsetting and biofuels.

This can never be considered “green”.

ICAO claims it will “offset” its increased emissions through a Global Market Based Mechanism. It remains unclear where these offsets will come from. Given the huge number of credits airlines would need to purchase to meet these plans, many presume that the industry will focus on trees, which have long been seen as a source of cheap offsets. A handful of conservation organisations are even touting them as a solution to ICAO’s growth plans.

But there is one problem: forest offsets don’t work…

…aviation emissions are released by burning fossil fuels which have been storing carbon underground for millennia. This permanent increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cannot be solved by a temporary storage in forests. As soon as trees burn or decay, they release the emissions right back into the air — and emissions keep rising.

Even if offsets did work, with less than five years left until global emissions put the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature aspiration out of reach, we do not have the luxury of choosing between reducing emissions and protecting forests. We need to do both.

In addition, forest offset projects have a dubious history of displacing local communities from their land—despite international safeguards. Unjust offset projects leave rural people in poor countries — those least responsible for climate change — yet again paying the price for the consumption habits of a small class of people: only seven per cent of the world’s population fly.   

Finally, the size of the offsets required is completely unachievable. When countries signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, they made commitments to reduce their emissions, including by protecting and restoring their forests. When one looks at how much forest has already been counted as part of forested countries’ Paris Agreement commitments, there is virtually none left for airlines to use as offsets, and certainly not enough for the massive emissions increase they plan.  

The ICAO is meeting in October this year to decide which projects will be allowed as offsets under their Global Market Based Mechanism. One hundred NGOs have already agreed that forests must not be one of the options, even if this means giving up on ICAO’s dream of constant upward growth.

Blog: Analysis of draft LULUCF reports

By Hannah Mowat

The recently-published draft reports of the Land Use Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) regulation give an indication of which direction the different committees’ rapporteurs would like to take the file. Here we offer a quick overview of the main highlights and lowlights:

Environment Committee report: The ENVI Committee is in charge of the LULUCF file and so its report is of most interest. It is worrying therefore that rapporteur Norbert Lins’ draft proposes to fundamentally weaken the LULUCF Regulation in two key ways: First, he suggests ignoring the emissions related to any increased harvesting that took place between 2009 - 2012; second, he proposes doubling the cap on forest management credits from 200 to 400 megatonnes (MT). Allowing Member States to offset a further 200 MT would be the equivalent of leaving almost 200 million more cars on the road. Lins’ report goes against his native country Germany’s amendments, which seek to strengthen the Commission proposal.

Agriculture Committee report: The rapporteur Elisabeth Köstinger’s report (which closely follows the amendment proposed by her native country Austria) undermines the Commission’s proposal in almost every way. The proposal removes the need to count emissions and removals from forests correctly, so that, for instance, future emissions from forests would not be counted. Changing the way emissions from forest removals are counted fundamentally undercuts the ability of the EU to ensure that bioenergy emissions are properly accounted for, since the carbon dioxide released from bioenergy is meant to be counted at the point of harvest not the point of combustion. The proposal also further weakens the credibility of credits generated by forest management, ending the hopes of many Member States that forest management could be used to offset emissions in the future.

Development Committee report: Rapporteur Florent Marcellesi has chosen to strengthen the Commission’s proposal in several ways. Recognising the international implications if the EU agrees weak rules, he proposed that all human-induced emissions are counted – not hidden in forests. This sets the best precedent for countries facing high levels of deforestation.

Industry, Research and Energy Committee report: Rapporteur Marisa Matias also proposes to strengthen the LULUCF Regulation, suggesting that emissions and removals from wetlands be counted and affirming that any actions to increase carbon in land and forests must comply with the EU’s biodiversity legislation.

Comment on COP22: The Paris Agreement - a forest and rights perspective

November 4, Brussels – The Paris Climate Agreement enters in to force today, less than a year after it was agreed. Such a rapid adoption indicates that there remains strong political will to tackle climate change. Fern’s analysis of the Agreement, called it an “historic moment and an achievement of international diplomacy”. We also warned that the net zero emissions target risked relying too much on the land use sector which could pose significant additional risks to forests, food security, and the land rights of vulnerable communities.

As the build up to the 2016 Marrakech climate conference (COP22) continues, Fern is urging the EU to limit greenhouse gas emissions sooner rather than later, and to offer greater protection to forests and forest peoples’ rights.

More ambition

The EU’s current emissions reduction targets were set before the Paris Agreement was negotiated. These targets have no chance of achieving the Paris Agreement and so will have devastating impacts on some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

The EU’s biggest instrument for dealing with climate change is the Effort Sharing Regulation, which mandates member states to reduce emissions in certain key sectors by 30 per cent. Increasing the ambition to a 45 per cent reduction is both achievable and consistent with the Paris Agreement.

Forests are more than a place to keep carbon

The Paris Agreement comes after years of prevaricating and delay which has meant that levels of greenhouse gases are so high that we already need to look at how to remove them as well as getting close to zero emissions. As trees and forest ecosystems extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and temporarily store carbon, they seem an obvious place for emissions-removal work. There is a real danger however that, if done poorly, such attempted reductions would threaten food security, community land rights and forests. Fern highlights the issues in our report on the topic, Going Negative.

The best and safest way to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is to restore existing forests, and the most consistent way to ensure rich and biodiverse forests is to respect and protect the land rights of the communities that live there.

Despite the urgent action required, the EU’s proposed new regulation on land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) will allow Member States to actually increase carbon emissions. This needs to change. The Regulation should incentivise the restoration of European forests, thereby increasing their capacity to store carbon. This restoration work must not however be used as an excuse for industry to pump even more greenhouse gases in to the atmosphere.

Changing consumption patterns

Deforestation is still a major source of carbon emissions, and most deforestation is caused by commercial agriculture. As a leading consumer of products grown or reared on deforested land, the EU needs find ways to strip deforestation out of its international supply chains. If it cannot do this, the chances of the world meeting the targets set by the Paris Agreement are slim.

The EU is currently conducting a feasibility study into an Action Plan to reduce deforestation and protect rights, to tackle precisely this issue. Fern and many other NGOs are calling on the EU to ensure such an Action Plan considers all the areas in which action needs to be taken.

One way to reduce emissions is by replacing fossil fuels with low carbon alternatives, such as wind and solar. Unfortunately, EU renewable energy policy presently relies on biomass. Bioenergy provides almost 65 per cent of overall renewable energy consumption despite the fact that burning biomass for energy can increase carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and reduce the carbon stored in forests or wood products. Fern explains the possible climate impacts of bioenergy use in a briefing note ‘Burning trees is no solution to climate change’.

Fern will be attending the COP and will be analysing how decisions will affect forests and forest peoples. All material will be available from our website www.fern.org and our Twitter account https://twitter.com/Fern_NGO

Most recent publications

Białowieża forest struggle is symptomatic of a greater ill

 

As Polish authorities disregard national protests and international pressure to stop logging, activists face increasing hostility in order to protect Białowieża, Europe’s last primeval forest. Activists estimate that 600-900 trees are felled daily.

EU’s Environment Committee recognises role of forests in fighting climate change but fails on bioenergy

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Blog: Aviation industry's carbon offsetting plans keep flying into trouble

by Julia Christian

Keeping global warming below 1.5°C - which the Paris Agreement strives to – means fundamental changes for industries from energy to transport. Yet the aviation sector - one of the planet’s biggest emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2) - is trying to avoid making changes.  If it were a country, aviation would be the world’s seventh largest emitter. So the challenge to reduce its emissions is urgent. The response so far from the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has been to actually propose an increase in flying.

NGOs call for policy changes in the wake of Portugal’s forest fires

Five days after the deadly wildfires in Eucalyptus Plantations Pedrógão Grande in central Portugal claimed 64 lives, two leading forestry campaigning organisations, Quercus (based in Lisbon, Portugal) and Fern (based in Brussels, Belgium), call on the EU to examine how their policies and subsidies have driven the Portuguese plantation model.

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PDF iconPortugal climate fire_final.pdf362.46 KB

One step forward, two steps back for EU on climate and forests

Today, the European Parliament took one step forward and two steps back for the climate and forests.

Read the full Press Release

On a positive front, the Environment Committee voted to strengthen the EU’s climate target for the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) - which covers the agriculture, waste, buildings and transport sectors - by reducing the amount of ‘LULUCF offsets’ they had access to by 90 million tons of CO2.

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