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Ladislav Miko appointed lead advisor to EC Presidency
Congratulations to Ladislav Miko on his appointment to advise the forthcoming EC Presidency, to be undertaken by the Czech Republic from July to December this year.
Longtime stalwart supporter of wilderness in Europe, and Chairman of Wild Europe until recently (still a trustee), Ladislav will relinquish his current role as head of the EU representation to the Slovakian Republic to undertake this crucial task.
He will be faced by a crowded schedule that encompasses numerous meetings in the run up to determination of the EU Biodiversity and Forest Strategies, as well as the emerging Restoration Law.
Tongass triumph! Protection for the world’s largest old growth temperate forest
In a highly significant victory for old growth forest, on 25th January the Biden administration reinstated roadless legislation to the Tongass Forest of South Eastern Alaska.
Just over 3.7 million hectares, the world’s largest intact temperate forest, was accorded strict protection along with its massive carbon stocks and rich array of wildlife.
This great achievement by a coalition of First Nation peoples, recreational and fishing interests, working with dedicated conservationists [to whom Wild Europe is honoured to have added its support] sends a clear and timely signal to decision takers in Europe: protection of forest from the EU Biodiversity & Forest Strategies must be equally strict and on the largest scale possible – translating into non extraction and non intervention.
Perfect storm for a forest bioenergy crisis – and how to address it
Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that forest bioenergy worsens climate change, with higher emissions than any other fuel including gas or coal, elements within the EC currently considering reform of RED II continue to give it their strong support.
In doing so, they will undermine the recently raised climate targets for 2030 and 2050, the aims of the Green Deal, and the EU’s global reputation for environmental probity.
First we have had strong indications in their consultation process that DG Energy in particular does not wish to see reforms to the Renewable Energy Directive II that currently enables subsidies for commercial scale forest bioenergy burning.
Then, on 22nd May, the EC published the Delegated Taxonomy Act that confirms a wish for such subsidies to remain in place, against the advice of its own TEG consultancy body, together with a weakening of controls on forestry practice.
That was closely followed on 27th May by a Report from the International Energy Agency advocating a 60% increase in bioenergy use. Consumption of forest wood in Europe for bioenergy already runs in excess of 350 million tonnes, at an annual wastage of 6 – 6.5 billion Euro pa for consumers and taxpayers – not to mention additional negative impacts on forests, biodiversity, health and air pollution generally.
Finally, we have the resurfacing of the Energy Charter Treaty, a legally binding instrument which enables energy companies to sue governments and other entities for changes to energy policy that may compromise their future earnings. It is proposed the provisions of this instrument be extended to ‘renewables’, forest bioenergy among them. If enabled, such extension would make it exceedingly difficult to dislodge this damaging and inefficient form of energy generation, indeed it could ossify the overall pattern of investment regardless of technical validity.
Fuelled by heavy lobbying from forestry and bioenergy interests seeking to defend large subsidies without which the commercial bioenergy industry would collapse overnight, this destructive juggernaut is now running out of control.
An action plan with impact
There are four underutilised opportunities that can help stop this momentum:
Development of a positive alternative energy policy, demonstrating how climate change is far more efficiently tackled by switching subsidies from forest bioenergy to alternative genuine renewables (wind, solar, marine, geothermal plus heat pumps and infrastructure), protection and restoration of carbon absorbing ecosystems, and emission suppression (re-budgeted insulation, recycling etc).
Promotion of matched funding from the EC (Just Transition, Climate and Recovery Funds) institutions (EIB etc) and the private sector will greatly reinforce the impact of this subsidy reallocation.
Current campaigning by the conservation sector is poorly structured from a lobbying perspective, despite its technical soundness, offering a problem to decision takers – how to fill the energy gap – rather than a positive way ahead.
Further developing the alliance against forest bioenergy to encompass consumers, taxpayers and industry representatives. Another key area of focus involves informing consumers and persuading them to switch retail energy supplier.
Raising awareness in the forest bioenergy finance arena of the above actions – particularly the potential shift in consumer demand – undermining the perceived commercial viability of this sector, raising the cost of risk-assessed capital and promoting reallocation of investment
Realigning the End Fossil Fuels campaign to become End Carbon Fuels.Given the higher emissions from bioenergy than gas or coal, this can only strengthen the position of fossil fuel and bioenergy campaigners alike.
Wild Europe is working on all these aspects of campaigning. For further information please contact email@example.com
10 June 2021
COP 26 Climate Change Summit – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Billed as a last chance saloon to avert profoundly damaging climate change before the 2030 target date, COP 26 in Glasgow from 1-13 November 2021 was characterised by a spate of pronouncements and initiatives.
What did it really achieve for climate and biodiversity, and how can this be built on strategically?
A few bullet points set the scene towards COP27 in Cairo.
Wild Europe’s Action Plan for large natural ecosystem areas – in EU and non EU countries – has been launched.
Described as ambitious but thoroughly practical, the Plan is strongly supportive of the EU Biodiversity Strategy and many of its key targets run in parallel:
Strict protection for a linked network of areas covering 10% of Europe’s terrestrial and marine areas
All old growth/primary forest to be included in strict protection together with adjacent areas – totalling some 15% of forest cover
Such strict protection to involve non-intervention, particularly for forests, unless necessary in limited circumstances for protection of individual endangered species
Targets built on inter-sector consensus
Such targets are underpinned by recognition that adequate compensation must be paid to private landholders, alongside full activation of the Payment for Ecosystem Services agenda and significant support for carbon rich ecosystems from the Climate Fund. It is important to build common ground with inter-sector consensus to achieve this.
There are a couple of dozen projects already underway in support of the Plan, and Wild Europe is one of 6 NGOs (along with IUCN, WWF, BLI, FERN and EEB) on the EC’s Forest and Nature Working Group, providing input for implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy. Strong emphasis is placed on reasserting the integrity of Europe and the EU’s global status for environmental probity – with a call for cessation of all subsidies for forest bioenergy, and their reallocation to genuine renewables that address rather than aggravate climate change.
Published on 1 March 2021
Wild Europe attains foundation status
As of 2nd February 2022 Wild Europe is designated as a Stichting, registered in the Netherlands
Our objectives remain unchanged, although our new structure will significantly enhance our ability to secure these across a broad range of activities. While we are based in the European Union, our remit will still cover the whole of Europe: from Ireland in the West to the Urals and Caucasus in the East.
Protection for several of Europe’s largest remaining wilderness areas is now within reach, thanks to a new mapping initiative. This has been undertaken by Icelandic cartographers in tandem with the Wildland Research Institute of Leeds University, directed by Steve Carver.
Based on Wild Europe’s definition and zonation criteria, itself linked to IUCN Category Ib, the initiative was launched on 22nd March 2022 in Reykjavik with Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson, Minister for Environment.
Wilderness still covers over 40% of Iceland’s terrestrial area, and this exercise provides a valuable model for identifying large natural ecosystem areas that are suitable for restoration and protection in Europe generally.
It is particularly relevant given the consensus among conservationists for non-intervention to play a significant role in the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy as the default interpretation of “strict protection” applying to 10% of EU terrestrial and marine areas.
Slovakian wilderness protection targets re-affirmed
President highlights targets at UN Summit
Major targets for non-intervention in national parks in the 2019 Greener Slovakia strategy were highlighted in a speech by President Caputova on 30th September at the UN Biodiversity Summit.
50% of NP area as non-intervention will be achieved by 2025.
75% will be achieved by 2030.
This clear re-affirmation should animate action to implement these protection targets in Slovakia itself, and be a useful catalyst for European governments generally. Another objective should, wherever possible, be attainment of IUCN Category I: complete non-intervention status.
President Caputova’s speech follows the unveiling earlier this year of a series of measures to strengthen environmental protection.
‘Model’ wilderness area in Alps based on Wild Europe definition
Author: Bernhard Kohler, WWF Austria
A wilderness area covering 6,700 hectares has been unveiled in the North West of Hohe Tauern National Park in Austria, following formal designation in 2019.
This is based on criteria from the Wild Europe definition and comes under the aegis of the Salzburg municipality.
The wilderness area has great promise as a model for the restoration strategy to implement targets in the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy – echoing Wild Europe’s own objectives of strict protection for at least 10% of EU and non-EU terrestrial areas.
A mechanism is being developed to offer private owners the opportunity to protect wild or wilderness areas on their land effectively ‘in perpetuity’.
The initiative has been created by a partnership between Wild Europe and the Lifescape Project conservation charity in tandem with international law firm Clifford Chance LLP.
Known as “The Legal Mechanism”, this involves legal owners granting a guardian charity the right to enforce ecological protections over the land for 150 years or more, whilst retaining effective ownership of the land for themselves and their descendants, using a leasehold structure. The leases would contain covenants stipulating land use that gives full protection to ecosystems with their wildlife.
Based on well-established procedure in the ‘built’ property sector, the concept is now proven for legislatures in England, Wales and Scotland; a technical brochure has been produced and initial consultations are taking place with landowners.
New “LEAF” initiative to support forest protection
A proposal by Wild Europe involves linking a network of NGOs, individual conservationists, land owners and community members dedicated to saving remaining natural forests in Europe.
Named by its acronym of LEAF, Last European Ancient Forests, and coordinated by a small secretariat, the initial objective will be to create a platform in support of the 2030 EU Biodiversity Strategy targets – including strict protection of all old growth/primary forests.
European Parliament Environment Committee call for moratorium on logging of old growth/primary forests
The temporary moratorium lays a clear path to effective protection, and should deter destruction or degradation of these forests in advance of any legislation.
It forms a key element in a package of suggestions launched by the Committee on 28th May for a Biodiversity Law they propose by 2022, backed with legally binding targets for 2030.
Other proposals include revision of rules for EU bioenergy production, currently enabling subsidy of commercial scale forest biomass burning despite this worsening climate change, to align with objectives of the EU Biodiversity Strategy and Climate Law.
The text will be voted in plenary on 7th June.
Former UNFCC chief casts further doubt on wood bioenergy subsidies
Adding his voice to a growing chorus of scientific concerns that wood bioenergy burning worsens rather than resolves climate change, highly respected former UNFCC Vice Chairman of Jean-Pascal van Ypersele has issued a clear statement:
“To subsidise an activity that has negative consequences for the climate and the environment is totally contradictory with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the goals of the conference (COP26) due to take place in Glasgow at the end of the year.”
An EP Resolution on implementation of its annual EUAA Report on Ukraine, published 11th February 2021, criticises planned development of this mega ski and recreation complex in the Zakarpattia oblast of the Ukrainian Carpathians, forecast to host 28,000 visitors per day.
The Resolution calls on the Ukrainian government to prevent widespread illegal logging – particularly of primeval forests – which it cites as the main cause of flooding in the region. It further calls on the EU to take steps help prevent such logging “in connection with the unlawful Svydovets ski resort project”.
Establishment of more protected areas in the country is also requested
Wild Europe inputs to EC Forest and Restoration consultations
The EU planning process is in full spate.
In December 2020 Wild Europe contributed to two consultations: on EU Forest Strategy and Restoration Targets. These are part of a wider process that includes determination of EU Timber Regulations, Land Use and Land Use Change and Forestry (the discordant LULUCF), with other measures to follow.
At stake in this determination of policy over the next decade are our fast-disappearing ecosystems and their wildlife.
The State of Nature in the EUReport published in October by the Environment Agency makes a grim backdrop: species in freefall decline, majority of habitats in unfavourable condition, climate change accelerating and budgets pressurised by COVID.
In this context the potential offered by rewilding, with its focus on non-intervention and cost-effective nature based solutions, has never been more important.
Wild Europe’s input to the consultation process
In a formal consultation process limited to 4000 characters, we focussed on those key actions essential to ensure the necessary radical action to address the twin crises of species extinction and climate change.
We seek extended protection and extensive restoration of natural ecosystems. The producer associations seek the status quo. There is however much more common ground between the two ‘sides’ than is often appreciated. We need to explore and establish this.
Lobby groups representing agriculture and forestry interests may be influential, but together they represent less than 2.5% of GDP in the European Union – much less if heavy subsidies from the remaining of the economy were withdrawn. The overwhelming weight of public opinion, backed by growing awareness among consumer and taxpayer associations, wants to see more proportionate attention paid to vital environmental concerns that affect their future.
It is in everybody’s interests to secure far-reaching agreement.
International conference for primary/old growth forest
A summit to catalyse joint action for the world’s remaining natural forests was co-hosted in webinars on 25/26th March 2021 by Wild Heritage and Wild Europe.
This represented the European element in a regional series under the auspices of the IntAct initiative, involving participation by Rebecka le Moine MP (Sweden), Ville Niinisto MEP (Finland) Michal Wiezik MEP (Slovakia) and others from the European parliament, with a range of international speakers and NGO expertise.
Cyril Kormos of Wild Heritage (US) introduced the aims of the summit: the European element of a global series promoting coordinated protection of primary/old growth forest. Toby Aykroyd of Wild Europe outlined the special circumstances relevant to forest conservation here.
The summit highlighted the value of old growth/primary forest generally with Professor Brendan Mackay of Griffith University (Australia) addressing the interlinked challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. It also stressed the importance of strict protection involving total non-intervention. Professor William Moomaw of Climate Research Centre (US) introduced the concept of ‘proforestation’ and emphasised the need for restoration to be based on ecological principles, with natural regeneration prioritised over planting wherever feasible.
The global significance of EU and national government forest policy was reviewed, with focus on how to build effectively on policy gains and tackle problematic issues such as forest bioenergy – explained by Mary Booth of PFPI (US), while David Gehl of EIA (US) addressed illegal logging. Virginia Young (Intact Global) introduced the Nexus Report and underlined the need for UNFCC and CBD to appreciate the spiralling link between biodiversity health and climate change.
Following introduction by Matthias Schickhofer (Euronatur, Germany) of a proposed project to promote old growth forest protection in the EU, recommendations were then collated for an international strategy of cooperation. Zoltan Kun of Wild Europe summarised these.
Further details of the strategy will be published.
Further progress towards German forest wilderness targets
A further 1950 hectares of beech forest has been purchased for the Kellerwald-Edersee National Park, North of Frankfurt – adding a further 30% to the existing old growth forest area, with some trees up to 500 years old.
“This is where tomorrow’s wilderness arises and the protection of these areas makes a valuable contribution to natural forest development and the promotion of biodiversity,” Priska Hinz, Hessian Environment Minister affirmed.
European Investment Bank – a major player for wilderness?
Our response to the consultation on EIB’s road to becoming a “Climate Bank” stresses its great potential opportunity to underpin major natural ecosystem conservation.
True protection principles must be safeguarded, given greater need to rely on private sector participation as COVID undermines official funding sources. There will also be a need for a more ‘balanced portfolio approach’ to include softer loans and grants. And projects funded must genuinely support the Paris Agreement in addressing climate change, with no more scope for image-tarnishing subsidised wood burning bioenergy.
However, if these issues are addressed, EIB could have a highly important potential role to play in achieving ambitious targets old growth forest protection, and restoration of large no-extraction natural ecosystem areas (AKA wilderness).
France Sauvage – New national wildness network proposed
Earlier this summer, Wild Europe with its French associates proposed an initiative to coordinate support for creation and protection of wilderness (espaces à haute naturalité) and wild areas (zones sauvages).
Based on the Wild Europe definition of such areas developed in 2012, this would involve creating “France Sauvage”, the working title for a network of NGOs and supportive entities to champion the set aside of large areas of natural ecosystem where non-intervention allows natural succession (libre evolution), with management by natural processes.
EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030: A major step forward
The EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy published on 20th May 2020 retains the visionary key targets in its earlier version.
Proper implementation of the Strategy will require adequate funding and enforcement on the ground. Nonetheless the Commission is to be congratulated for sticking to its guns, so far, in advocating necessarily ambitious objectives for protection and restoration.
This represents good news for large natural ecosystem areas (“wilderness”) and natural forests – responding positively to major requests in Wild Europe’s most recent representation to Frans Timmermans and the Commissioners for Environment, Agriculture & Rural Development and Energy. This was subsequently responded to by Environment Commissioner Sinkevicius.
Strong EC Commitments to protection
Key commitments by the Commission in the Biodiversity Strategy include
Legal protection by 2030 for a minimum 30% of the EU’s land and seas:
Strict protection for at least a third of these Protected Areas – ie 10% of total area, offering great potential for large natural ecosystem areas
This stipulation includes strict protection of all remaining EU old growth/primary forests along with other ecosystems
Establishment of comprehensive green & blue ecological connectivity
Call for effective definitions, mapping and management of the above – with implicit funding availability
For restoration – there is a new EU Nature Restoration Plan, with core focus on ecosystem services:
Legally binding Nature Restoration Targets by 2021 for degraded ecosystems, now delayed to end of 2022
These include no deterioration in PA conservation status by 2030
Criteria for additional areas to be determined at national level by end 2021, with effective action by 2023
3 billion trees planted by 2030 (natural forest is needed)
25,000 km of free flowing rivers, which can be linked to ‘blue connectivity’ and basin-scale flood mitigation, including restoration of riverine, flood sink and upland watershed forest and wetland
A new CAP to deliver at least 10% of agricultural area under “high diversity landscape features”. Wild Europe will be re-stressing its proposal for a supplementary Ecological Focus Area, tradable at regional level, to promote creation of consolidated large areas of natural ecosystem funded by CAP
A more mixed picture for renewable energy
For renewable energy, and the related RE Strategy, the picture is more mixed.
Wording of permitted inputs for bioenergy remains significantly vague. Use of whole trees should be disallowed for financial support, not just “minimised”
It is unclear whether improved operational guidance on RED II sustainability criteria will support further improvements needed to recent TEG Taxonomy suggestions
Subsidies for wood burning bioenergy must cease forthwith or this damaging practice, now representing half of timber consumption in Europe, will continue toundermine all eight elements of the EU Green Deal and compromise the EU’s coveted position as global leader in sound environmental practice. A poor image at COP15 in Kunming, 2021.
As Environment Commissioner Sinkevicius said at the Biodiversity Strategy launch “We cannot halt and reverse biodiversity loss without achieving Paris Agreement goals, and vice versa”.
Next steps in implementation
Much work is required to translate the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy commitments into adequate action.
Protection of old growth/primary forest should involve linkage of fragmented remnants and restoration of adjacent areas to enable proper ecosystem function and resilience
The importance of scale and the central role of non-intervention management in delivering ecosystem services for strictly protected areas needs full recognition and application
The EC should promote the objectives of its Biodiversity Strategy in non EU European countries: through neighbour agreements, accession treaties, trade & aid policies, exchange of best practice
The 2021 EU Forestry Strategy needs to be truly aligned to biodiversity objectives with appropriate conservation measures
The new Forest Information System for Europe (FISE) should be an effective instrument for protection as well as restoration
Capacity building must address major gaps in the conservation sector’s ability to utilise macro-economic approaches and PES enterprise (payment for ecosystem services) for achievement of biodiversity objectives
The ‘significant proportion’ of the 25% EU budget on climate change to be spent on nature-based solutions needs clearly elaborating, along with other funding instruments – including the Recovery Instrument.
A strategy for all of Europe
The European Commission should also promote the objectives of its Biodiversity Strategy in non EU European countries.
Many of these contain the most valuable remaining areas of natural ecology in our continent, but generally have the lowest budgets for protection and the least effective legal protection. The EC can achieve much here: through neighbour agreements, accession treaties, trade & aid policies, exchange of best practice.
Implementation of Stage II of the current EU Wilderness Register, proposed by Wild Europe, will be an important step here. This would incorporate non EU countries into the existing Register and focus on non-extractive enterprise to secure conservation funding and local community and landholder support from the PES agenda
Funding and enforcement
The 20 bn Euro funding per year is relatively under budgeted for the scale of the task, and will have to come from private as well as public funds
There is additionally a ‘significant proportion’ of the 25% EU budget on climate change to be spent on nature-based solutions. This allocation needs clearly elaborating, along with other funding instruments – including the Recovery Initiative.
The need to ensure full enforcement is also critical. Many areas in the Natura 2000 network have little or no appropriate protection. Poor management at local level and slow prosecution are a major problem – with Court action at EC level (ECJ) on infringements of environmental law often being a very slow process.
Another glaringly simple problem is key habitats such as old growth forest are still not directly identified as requiring protection – one reason among many why the EU Guidelines on the Management of Wilderness and Wild Areas now need a Stage II version.
Effective reform of the Arhus Convention, strengthening access to information and justice for NGOs and individual citizens, will be helpful.
A complete overhaul of the Environmental Impact Assessment procedure is also urgently needed.
Congratulations and cooperation
Subject to the above, the EU is to be warmly congratulated for advocating the visionary aims in its Biodiversity Strategy that are so critical for addressing the dual crises of climate change and species extinction.
For its part Wild Europe also looks forward to liaising closely with representatives from forestry and land user sectors – including CEPF, EUSTAFOR and EFI – in identifying common ground and ensuring benefit for local landholders and communities as well as conservation.
New Slovakian government unveils potent support for wilderness
The Slovakian government, newly elected on 29th February, has announced strong protection for wilderness, forests and conservation generally.
The programme presented by Prime Minister Igor Matovic introduces three measures of particular importance:
In national parks at least 50% of land will be left unmanaged, promoting fullest re-establishment of natural ecosystem processes and resilience through a land use zonation system.
Administration of protected areas will be unified under the Ministry of Environment, a move long requested by the conservation movement
Increased public scrutiny of forest operations will be encouraged. A mobile phone app will be available for mass use to monitor logging and timber transport, and full forest management programmes with logging data are to be publicly available.
Wild Europe input to Consultation on EU Climate Target
Wild Europe’s feedback on 15th April welcomed the more ambitious target of a 50%+ drop in the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
However it warned that, if subsidies for wood biomass continue, this target would be at risk – as would the EU’s continuing credibility as a respected proponent of best environmental practice.
Payment of these subsidies is a burden on productive business and personal livelihoods. As economies slowly rebuild post COVID-19, proponents of wood bioenergy subsidy will not be lightly forgiven for supporting the wastage of scarce capital on an expensive myth of renewable energy that actually worsens the climate change it claims to mitigate.
“Not all biomass is carbon neutral” First sign of realism from the wood bioenergy industry?
At last key figures in wood bioenergy burning are acknowledging rapidly accumulating scientific evidence on the worsening of climate change caused by their industry.
“Not all biomass should automatically be categorised as carbon neutral” admitted a “chief sustainability officer” of US-based Enviva, the world’s largest producer of wood pellets for commercial power generation, during a webinar discussion on 29th June.
The overall message still lacks full credibility. “To bring climate benefits, biomass needs to come from low-value wood residues or smaller trees coming from timber harvests – not from high-value trees that could be used in products like furniture or construction material” the Enviva spokesperson is reported as saying.
The narrative is thus more about not burning valuable quality timber than the notoriously high emissions from wood bioenergy – and no doubt results from growing concern even within the forestry sector about such blatant wastage. Many energy plants claim to only burn residues, despite clear photographic evidence to the contrary, and there is widespread practice of chipping timber into ‘residues’.
The first sign of realism?
Nonetheless this admittance marks the first sign of realism from a wood bioenergy sector that has devoured massive quantities of consumer and taxpayer resources, to the tune of some 6.5 billion Euros for just 15 EU countries in 2017, despite wood being the least efficient form of renewable energy with emissions even higher than natural gas.
Consuming 400 million tonnes per year of wood in Europe, wood bioenergy is devastating biodiversity rich forests and is likely to make crucial 2030 climate targets significantly less achievable.
Raising awareness of voters, consumers, taxpayers
An initiative is underway to raise awareness of this situation among voters, consumers and taxpayers. Their eyes will shortly be on policy makers to cease all subsidies to wood bioenergy, reallocating incentives to effective, less polluting sources of renewable energy as well as genuine means of addressing climate change such as insulation, recycling and emission reducing technology.
Banks, funds and general investors wood bioenergy should also take heed that the writing is firmly on the wall for the future value of their holdings.
Concern expressed over EC consultation on climate change target
A collective representation organized by Wild Europe in partnership with Birdlife International, expresses widely held concerns that the current EC consultation on the 2030 climate targets is misleading, and could end up undermining the mitigation of climate change.
It has been signed by 49 organisations across Europe in little over 48 hours.
The EC consultation questionnaire, which aims to collate opinion for developing energy and climate policies, effectively encourages agreement to more ambitious targets for greenhouse gas reduction in 2030 with greater use of renewable energy to achieve these.