Climate change: Ursula von der Leyen pledges EU ‘green deal’
Last week, the European Commission published a sweeping package of climate policies including binding targets for countries to restore and grow forests, peatlands and other natural “carbon sinks” that suck CO2 out of the atmosphere.
The policies require better protections for forests, which have shrunk due to logging, demand for biomass energy and threats worsened by climate change such as wildfires and pests.
But 11 member states are already rebelling against the flagship plan, complaining foresting should not fall under EU competence.
Romanian Environment Minister Tanczos Barna said on Monday that his country supports the European Commission’s plan to protect forests and harness their ability to fight climate change, but more talks are needed to clarify goals and funding sources.
He said several EU states, including Romania, which have most of Europe’s old forests, would end up shouldering a bigger share of the monitoring and protection duties.
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“A European forest strategy is necessary,” Mr Barna told reporters.
“Clear, ambitious targets are necessary, very clear definitions of old growth, secular and primary forests are needed so that each member state knows exactly what obligations it has.
“Funding must also be discussed, the funding conditions and support member states will get when they commit to extremely ambitious targets.”
Mr Barna said Romania was one of 11 member states including Austria, Germany, Finland, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic which signed an open letter late last week asking Brussels to hold targeted debates over the strategy.
He added: “It should be noted that at the EU level there will be four countries that will bear the brunt of this monitoring and protection of primeval forests, as they have been defined so far: Romania, Bulgaria, Finland and Sweden.
“So most forests older than 100 years will be concentrated in several member states and that is why Romania’s interest is that this forestry strategy, beyond the obligations, to establish the financing conditions and the support that the member states will get when they assume the extremely ambitious goals.”
Romania, which is home to some of Europe’s last remaining virgin forests and diverse wildlife, is losing 20 million cubic metres of wood on average each year to illegal logging.
Austrian MPs also fear a decline in wood production by 10 percent – a heavy blow to the industry as forests cover 50 percent of Austria.
Agriculture Minister Elisabeth Köstinger said: “In Austria, we want to push back fossil resources by using more timber, as we want to give preference to renewable resources.”
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The Austrian forest association also lambasted the plans, claiming that the EU would try to make up for their alleged delayed response to climate change by overburdening the forestry sector and thereby depriving businesses of their “basis of income”.
The European Union’s huge policy package to make good on a pledge to reduce net greenhouse emissions by 55 percent from 1990 levels by 2030 has stirred opposition from climate campaigners and even within the executive European Commission.
Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg cast doubt on the level of ambition.
“Unless the EU tear up their new Fitfor55 package, the world will not stand a chance of staying below 1.5°C of global heating. That’s not an opinion, once you include the full picture it’s a scientific fact. MindTheGap between words and action,” she tweeted.
Greenpeace was another high profile dissenter.
“Celebrating these policies is like a high-jumper claiming a medal for running in under the bar,” the group’s EU director Jorgo Riss said.
Green politicians in the European Parliament, who had pushed for an emissions cut of 60 percent by 2030, welcomed the proposals but identified room for improvement.
Some of the policies have proposed time horizons of several years, which activists and Green politicians say is too long.
“For all the hype, many policies won’t kick in for 10 years or more, like new polluting cars still being sold up to 2035,” said Greenpeace’s Riss.
Combustion engines are also a bugbear for the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament, which called for an end to their sale by 2030.
The inclusion of biomass, produced from burning wood pellets or chips, in its energy plans, has also been divisive.
“Others (other policies) will actually fuel the fire, like labelling the burning of trees as renewable energy,” Riss added.