News in Brief - May 2016

15 May 2016

Drax asks for more state funds

In 2015 Drax, the UK’s largest power plant, received £451.8 million in state subsidies and other support for converting its coal-fired boilers into ones that can burn wood pellets. Now Drax is asking for more money. In a Financial Times interview on 19 April, Drax chief executive Dorothy Thompson said that switching the power plant’s remaining three coal boilers to wood would be impossible unless the company receives more of the new Contract for Difference (CfD) subsidy, which guarantees long-term power prices for renewable power companies. As Fern has repeatedly highlighted, the huge subsidies EU members are giving to energy companies to burn wood for energy is having a destructive impact on forests, people and the climate (FW201FW209), and must be stopped.

Bioenergy fact-finding missing in the US

The EU’s appetite for burning woody biomass is having a devastating impact not only on Europe’s ancient woodlands, but also on forests elsewhere in the world (FW201FW203FW209). Fern’s Bioenergy campaigner Linde Zuidema was one of a number of NGO representatives who recently made a fact-finding mission to the South Eastern United States to see first-hand the impact on the wetland forests that are being cut down to produce wood pellets for the EU energy market. In a blog, Zuidema highlighted how local communities in South Carolina, amongst the poorest in the country, had not benefited from this industry and had no say about the razing of their forests.

More transparency in Cameroon

Cameroon’s Ministry of Forests has taken a small step towards greater transparency by uploading complementary information on its website in line with the transparency annex (annexe 7) of the Cameroon-EU Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA). Information that is useful in monitoring the implementation of the VPA – relevant legal documents; volumes of timber harvested and exported; transformation of forest products and the companies involved; maps and titles, etc - should be uploaded here and regularly updated. Although the implementation of the transparency annex is a sign of progress, much information still needs to be added; for example, data about agro-industrial plantations. This improvement in transparency about Cameroon’s forest sector follows pressure from civil society to implement the transparency annex and the imposition of sanctions, in line with the EU Timber Regulation, by the Dutch authorities against a Dutch importer bringing in timber from Cameroon (FW214).

The state of Europe's forests

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has published European forest ecosystems: State and trends, an in-depth report about the state of Europe’s forests, the extraordinary demands upon them and the varied services they provide. Covering a broad range of topics, the report points to relevant research while noting causes for concern: for example, the difficulty in finding accurate baseline data and the absence of systematic, harmonised European-wide forest information, despite the existence of national forest inventories. The EEA highlights the need to increase research into drivers of deforestation and their complex interactions, such as how the increased demand for wood for bioenergy might encourage the intensification of forest management and lead to less beneficial deadwood in forest habitats. The report draws attention to the ecological inequality of Europe’s hunger for wood and natural resources, which must be satisfied through imports, displacing environmental costs and pressures to other countries.

Goldman Prize

A Cambodian activist who went undercover to expose illegal logging and corruption has been named one of this year’s recipients of the Goldman Environmental PrizeLeng Ouch’s courageous actions prompted the Cambodian government to cancel large land concessions in 2014, although deforestation is still rampant: less than 30 per cent of Cambodia’s original forest cover remains. Leng Ouch, whose work has forced him into hiding, campaigns against Economic Land Concessions (ELCs), a system designed to promote large-scale agricultural development but in fact often used as cover for illegal logging operations. Campaigners say more than 700,000 people have been driven from their homes as a result of ELCs. Among the other winners of this year’s Goldman Prizewere Edward Loure, whose grassroots organisation pioneered an approach that gives land titles to indigenous communities in northern Tanzania; and Máxima Acuña, a Peruvian subsistence farmer who refused to sell her land for the development of a gold and copper mine.

EU urged to suspend aid to Honduras

The danger faced by environmental campaigners was starkly illustrated by the recent murder of the Honduran activist Berta Cáceres (FW213) a Goldman Prize-winner last year. Recently some big European funders froze their support for the controversial dam project she campaigned against (FW214). Now activists from the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), including Berta’s daughter Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, have visited Brussels to call for the “suspension of EU aid to Honduras until the government shows a political will to resolve the human rights violations and land conflicts.” They met MEPs, representatives of the European Commission and civil society organisations to discuss the situation in their country.

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