In the name of EU climate policies, deforestation is sold as a green solution. This is not happening in far away tropical countries, but in some of the last natural forests of the European continent. 2Celsius and Energetyka24 will bring about different perspectives, from Romania and Poland – in a EU context, on a “burning issue”.
Green groups and researchers across Europe are aiming at changing climate policies that allow for deforestation. Commodification of forests and trees has always been a trait of human development; people always needed to burn wood or clear land for agriculture. However, it is for the first time in our global history that forests become subjects of trade under financial or carbon schemes. In short, paradoxically, we are carrying on with deforestation in order to mitigate climate change.
Scientists, activists and conservationists in Romania and Poland are fighting an uphill battle to protect some of the last living laboratories for science, the natural forests of the continent, against the invisible hand (in truth, manned by local and national politicians) of absurd policies with a claim to sustainability. These natural forest ecosystems are not only some of the last barriers against catastrophic climate change as carbon sinks, but are also a means for science to study and understand nature in its own element, something that is becoming a rarity with humans encroachment.
We aimed at specific primeval forests endangered as a consequence of legal loopholes. The structure of the series of articles is discussing:
– European policies such as Climate Action Regulation (CAR), policies sourcing in the new Renewable Energy Directive (RED+), and the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) Regulation.
– National policies and carbon schemes that deal with biomass.
– Bialowieza Forest in Eastern Poland.
– Carpathian Forest in Romania’s Transylvanian Alps.
The narrative is deployed against the mantra of forest management and forest schemes that generally have a common denominator: the cutting and clearing of trees – even if it is done “sustainably, with modern scientific bases”. To be clear, our analysis is not a jab against sustainably managed forestry. Instead we are trying to show that the ‘sustainability’ argument is often used to mediate for an ever-increasing expansion and exploitation of forests in Eastern European countries.
The stories will flow thematically (pests, illegal logging, biomass etc.), geographically (E.U., Poland, Romania), diachronically (modern evolution of scientific forestry).
BIALOWIEZA: AN OLD STORY OF BIOMASS. IN THE OLDEST OF THE EUROPEAN LOWLANDS, GOVERNMENTAL SAWS CREATE THE TRANSITION TO “GREEN” ENERGY. THE CULPRIT: A LITTLE BUG, THE SPRUCE BARK BEETLE.
ROMANIA: BIOMASS, A THREAT TO VIRGIN FORESTS. CONSERVATIONISTS AND GOVERNMENTAL EXPERTS CRITICISE THE FALSE CARBON AVERSION AND CARBON TRADING WHEN FOREST BIOMASS IS CONSIDERED “GREEN” ENERGY.
TREES AS TRADE-OFFS ON THE CARBON MARKET. THE FOREST SINK IS DIMINISHING DUE TO LOOPHOLES IN THE EU LEGISLATION. EXPERTS FROM TRANSPORT &ENVIRONMENT AND BIRDLIFE EUROPE SHED A LIGHT ON HOW UNITS OF BIOMASS ARE BEING MONETIZED INTO UNITS OF CARBON.
BIOMASS IN INTERNATIONAL PROTOCOLS. A SHORT DISCUSSION WITH MARKUS REITERER, SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE ALPINE CONVENTION, TOUCHES ON THE MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ALTERNATIVE ENERGY EXPLOITATION IN ALPINE VS. CARPATHIAN COUNTRIES.
BACKGROUND of the BIOMASS ISSUE – A Clarification of Terms
Biomass. Coal is slowly being phased out and there is a strong need for alternative energy. More biomass from forests seems to be the (green) answer. But even dead trunks in the forest mean and sustain life.
As they photosynthesize, they produce hydrocarbons, which fuel their growth, and over the course of their lives, they store up to 22 tons of carbon dioxide in their trunks, branches, and root systems. When they die, the same exact quantity of greenhouse gases is released as fungi and bacteria break down the wood, process the carbon dioxide, and breathe it out again. The assertion that burning wood is climate neutral is based on this concept. After all, it makes no difference if it’s small organisms reducing pieces of wood to their gaseous components or if the home hearth takes on this task, right? But how a forest works is way more complicated than that.
Most of this carbon remains locked in the ecosystem forever. The crumbling trunk is gradually gnawed and munched into smaller and smaller pieces and worked, by fractions of inches, more deeply into the soil. The rain takes care of whatever is left, as it flushes organic remnants down into the soil. The farther underground, the cooler it is. And as the temperature falls, life slows down, until it comes almost to a standstill. And so it is that carbon dioxide finds its final resting place in the form of humus, which continues to become more concentrated as it ages. In the far distant future, it might even become bituminous or anthracite coal.
Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC). The same quest for alternative energy, and this time biofuels take the limelight, leads towards a pressure on forests as they are not agricultural land, therefore they are “not useful”.
Energy used to plough the land, to seed, to harvest and to transport is emitting more CO2 than what plants can capture. If the crop is not growing well, you can already emit more carbon than you save (Carbon per hectare). The thing is, when we have to evaluate the greenhouse gas emitted in the agricultural process, that gas does not have a national boundary so we have to do the analyses at global level. Whatever we do in Romania, Italy or Brazil it does not matter to the air because all gas ends up in the atmosphere.
Where will the biofuels be grown (land availability)? Agricultural land has increased in geometrical progression along the last decades. In Europe we are using less land, but if one looks at what is happening if Latin America or other parts of the world, we will see that Europe is importing soy beans, for example, which were grown on 50 million hectares outside. While Europe saves, say, 5-7 million hectares, it puts the claim of land requirement to other parts of the world.
What counts is what happens globally so we are using more land for our food production than in the last few decades and the question is will we need more or less land to grow and feed the increasing number of people. People are becoming richer so they will require richer diets. For the coming decades we will need more agricultural land in the world ONLY to feed the people, around 200 million hectares more ONLY for food crops and not taking into account biofuels. This is the background of the debate and on top of that we need biofuels. Each and every hectare that we use for biofuel, it will put the claim on even more land.
In the end, if we need more land it should come from somewhere. We will not use desserts so whatever we have in expansion are areas that are fertile and that yield a reasonable production. These are almost always the FORESTS.
Carbon Schemes. Until recently, international carbon schemes involving forests, land use and land use change were mainly focused on tropical rainforests. Currently, European forests, mostly from the Eastern side of the continent became objects of carbon trade.
European Trading System (EU ETS). The EU ETS was designed principally as a technological driver for emission abatement by energy and industrial sources. It focuses upon permanent reductions by emission sources. The EU ETS covers between 40-45% of all GHG emissions and it includes most of the power sector, large industries and currently intra-EU flights. Installations under the EU ETS need to surrender allowances equivalent to their annual emissions. Allowances are received for free, bought in public auctions or traded with other installations. Major impediments to inclusion of carbon sequestration by forests are considered by the European Commission to include hazardous re-release of carbon from forests via fires, high transaction and administrative costs, added complexity, remaining uncertainties in quantification, monitoring and verification of emission removals, and unresolved leakage issues.
EU ETS – The European Trading Scheme – could potentially provide a significant source of funding for EU forestry carbon sequestration activities. Afforestation and reforestation are among activities listed for potential funding using revenues from at least half the proceeds of auctioning EU emission allowances (EUAs) by Member States.
Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) turned into Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) and finally, in early 2018, into Climate Action Regulation (CAR). ESD is responsible for between 55-60% of all GHG emissions in the EU. The largest sector included in the ESD is surface transport, which is responsible for more than a third of all ESD emissions. It is followed by emissions from buildings, agriculture and other sectors. Unlike the ETS, the entities regulated by the ESD are member states. Each country has an annual reduction target for the ESD sector. If they do not achieve it, they need to buy ESD allowances from other member states or make use of some of the available “flexibilities”. If they go beyond their allocated target for that specific year, they can save those allowances for another year or they can sell them to another member state. It is the responsibility of each member state to achieve their annual ESD target. Each member state has a different ESD target, serving as a sort of national carbon budget for the sectors included.
The land use, land use change, and forestry (LULUCF) sector removes more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases, and is therefore a ‘net sink’ for carbon. Some countries want carbon removals from forests and land use to count towards their emissions reduction efforts and thereby reduce the effort they have to make to cut emissions in ESD sectors, such as agriculture, surface transport and buildings. This could lead to additional emissions higher than one billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent in the coming decade.
“Pests” and “scientific exploitation”. Generally, forests are being perceived at best as providers of ecosystems services among which biomass prevails. Forest provides wood, wood turns into biomass, biomass turns into energy. Even in cases of primeval or virgin forests, the modern forestry is interventionist. Whether loads of dead trunks and other biomass “has to” be extracted or bark beetles attack healthy trees, foresters intervene in order to settle for the merchandise – wood.
Raul Cazan – 2Celsius
Jakub Wiech – Energetyka24