Green Resources’ pine plantation in Kachung. Photo: Kristen Lyons/The Oakland Institute.

A new briefing paper by The Oakland Institute brings forward evidence that the Norwegian forestry and carbon credit company, Green Resources, evicted villagers around their tree plantation in Kachung, Uganda. The Swedish Energy Agency purchases carbon credits from Green Resources. The establishment of the large-scaleplantation on land previously used by subsistence farmers has resulted in loss of land, livelihoods and created an on-going food security crisis for the local villagers. 

The Swedish Energy Agency reports to Swedish TV4 (in writing) that it considers Green Resources to be compliant to the Agency's reform demands for the local villagers.

Green Resources also has new majority shareholders, the public development institutions of Norway and Finland - Norfund and Finnfund - which rescued it from bankruptcy in July 2018. These institutions are aware of the land grab, yet continue to finance the project despite Green Resources’ abuse against the communities at Kachung.

Oakland Institute releases company documents in its briefing paper - including letters showing that villagers have been evicted fom the plantations. 

The briefing paper also exposes the complicity of the international certification body Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) which is supposed to verify the company’s compliance with environmental and social standards. The FSC audit report from 2016 has omitted the impact of the land grab despite of an ongoing lawsuit where the villagers in Kachung sued Green Resources and the National Forest Authority.

Frédéric Mousseau, Policy Director of the Oakland Institute, said in a press release (Oakland Institute):

“Based on flawed audits, the accreditation Green Resources received from the certification agencies calls into question their commitment to social and environmental standards. In the name of fighting climate change, they claim that a large-scale plantation of non-native pine trees, which are to be cut and sold as timber, is preferable to subsistence activities of African farmers. As thousands of Ugandan villagers struggle to survive after the loss of their land and natural resources to the plantation, the institutions and government agencies that enable Green Resources to operate must be held accountable for their wrongdoings and their complicity in this land grab.”

“Beyond the need for accountability, that such a flawed project could run with the backing of three European governments, several international bodies, and specialized private auditing firms, raises serious questions around the true motives of these institutions as well as the purpose and the functioning of the whole carbon economy,” Mousseau concluded.

Read the Oakland Institute report Evicted for Carbon Credits: Norway, Sweden, and Finland Displace Ugandan Farmers for Carbon Trading

See the news feature from Swedish TV4 here (only in Swedish).

A clear-cut at Abmobäcken may disturb the ecosystem of the small lakes. Photo: Jonas Nordenström

The state-owned forestry company Sveaskog, is going to log several natural forests with high conservation values in the county of Västerbotten, near Sorsele. There are two planned loggings of 20 and 21 hectares in a wetland near Abmobäcken 15 kilometres south of Sorsele. There are several planned loggings, totally 45 hectares, at Stormyran 15 kilometres east of Sorsele. At Abmoberg, 15 kilometres south of Sorsele Sveaskog has already logged 11,5 hectares of old natural forest, in spite of protests from several NGOs.

The area which is planned to be logged near Abmobäcken consists of natural pine forest with myres, wetlands, small islands and ridges which are important environments for birds and amphibians. Erland Lindblad and Jonas Nordenström from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) in Sorsele have visited the forest and sent a letter to Sveaskog. They write:
”The varied landscape is divided into small to very small forest areas which make us wonder whether it will be possible for Sveaskog to leave sufficient zones of forest along the edges of the water. Logging the forest will most probably seriously disturb the water balance and even the small lakes’ ecosystem. We suggest that Sveaskog stops the planned clear-cuttings and instead take the necessary measures to conserve this valuable area.”

It is important to save zones of forest along the edges of water because the zones provide protection against some of the negative effects caused by clear-cuts. According to the forestry law protective zones of forest should always remain along water. But there are many examples of companies ignoring this, here is one such example.

A field visit was carried out by SSNC in the beginning of August. 19 species which are of conservation interest were found, 12 of these species are red-listed, such as the fungi Antrodia albobrunnea (VU) and Cinereomyces lenis (VU). These fungi live on wood often in untouched pine forests with high conservation values where there is a long continuity of course woody debris from pine in several stages of degradation. In many places in the forest there are old spruce trees with the fungus Pseudographis pinicola (NT).
Pseudographis pinicola is dependent on a high level of humidity in old and undisturbed forests. If the trees are clear-cut, the whole environment around them will change and these species will disappear. In the area there is also capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), grouse (Tetrastes bonasia) and whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus). Three birds which are prioritized species according to the forest law.

In the wetlands and natural forest complex of Stormyran – Holmmyran – Ardnasåjvvie, 15 kilometres east of Sorsele, there are four planned loggings. These areas consist of old spruce forest which is surrounded by myres. In the letter to Sveaskog SSNC writes:
”In 2017 we noted that the red-listed fungi Antrodia infirma (EN) exists in the area. This fungi is bound to old-growth spruce forest. A recommendation from The Swedish Species Information Centre is that old forests with Antrodia infirma should be excluded from forestry and left undisturbed for free development.”

Sveaskog will log the forest where the fungus Skeletocutis lilacina (VU) is. Photo: Erland Lindblad

In spite of this, 45 hectares are still planned for logging where the red-listed species are. In the beginning of August members from SSNC visited the area. They found the purple coloured fungus Skeletocutis lilacina (VU) growing on course woody debris of a spruce. In the letter to Sveaskog, they write that this rare fungus has only been noted six times in Sweden previously. The findings of Skeletocutis lilacina and of Skeletocutis chrysella (VU) in both the middle and northern part of the forest indicate that the whole area is of importance in a landscape perspective and should not be logged. Erland Lindblad states:
“Although the fungus Skeletocutis chrysella is growing in several places in the forest, and not to speak of Skeletocutis lilacina- a fungus which hardly has been found in Sweden before, the Swedish Forest Agency answers:
‘Sveaskog has already planned to leave enough consideration by following the forestry law. What we can do is see if we can re-prioritize some of the area but we cannot ask for more beyond that.’”

There is a rich occurrence of traces of the Eurasian three-toed woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus) (NT). Photo: Erland Lindblad

SSNC emphasizes that there is a rich occurrence of traces on the trees from the Eurasian three-toed woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus) (NT). According to SSNC more clear-cuts will fragment the forest and in doing so damage the long-term survival of the woodpecker.
”We suggest that Sveaskog drops the logging plans and takes the necessary measures so that these valuable forests are conserved for the future”
There is a large unfragmented natural forest at Abmoberget, 15 kilometres south of Sorsele. Now Sveaskog has clear-cut 11.5 hectars in the northern part of Abmoberg although several environmental NGOs have requested Sveaskog not to log this forest or other parts of Abmoberg. There are now several planned clear-cuts there. Erland Lindblad says:
”It is so sad that they can’t even let the last unfragmented forests be untouched.”

Clear-cut in the northern part of Abmoberg. Photo: Erland Lindblad

Abmoberg is one of the last large unfragmented forests in Västerbotten below the mountain forest region. From north to south one can walk 8 kilometres through unbroken forest with myres, small lakes and sub-alpine terrain. The forest has no impact from modern forestry and parts of it can be considered as old-growth forest. The oldest pine is 420 years and the oldest spruce is 497 years. East, west, south and now even north of Abmoberg there are large clear-cut areas.

Brussels, 18 June 2019

The European Commission has called for Member States to be more transparent about bioenergy use in their final National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs). This underlines their current alarming lack of openness on the issue.

In the EU’s press conference today, Commissioner Cañete emphasised the gap in collective progress towards achieving the EU’s renewable energy target. He did not mention the importance of the policies and measures which will help achieve the target. Bioenergy currently provides more than 65 per cent of the EU’s renewable mix and is projected to continue increasing until 2030. This poses significant threats to nature, people and the climate, while seriously hampering the efficient use of limited resources.

“The Commission has mentioned a lack of transparency in reporting on bioenergy. The lack of information on the source of biomass poses a serious threat to biodiversity whilst the failure of Member States to address the overall volume of biomass used for energy production could undermine EU climate ambitions. Member States need to address these gaps in their final NECPs,” Luke Edwards from Birdlife Europe said.

Despite the grave threats from increased biomass use, NGOs’ initial analysis of the draft NECPs concludes that there is a major compliance gap. They fail to provide information on bioenergy, such as clear trajectories, the origin of biomass and its impacts on forests and land use, air quality and forest carbon sinks (Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF)).

“These national plans are vital if we are to hold countries to account for the negative impacts of using more biomass to produce energy. Impacts include reducing forests’ ability to mitigate climate change”, said Kelsey Perlman from Fern NGO.

“Despite clear requirements, Member States have not provided enough information to show the impact of their choices. Already we know that by 2030, five out of the EU’s six most forested countries will be less able to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is a disaster for the climate”, Perlman added. 

It is clear from the information provided so far that some Member States are planning a sharp increase in bioenergy use, but they do not say where the biomass will come from. Increasing reliance on biomass imports is problematic because its puts pressure on land use and forests globally. 

“EU Member States cannot continue to plan to increase their reliance on bioenergy when they have no concept of where it will come from or what its environmental impacts are. Year after year, on-the-ground investigations show a disturbing pattern: European energy giants burn wood harvested from native hardwood forests in global biodiversity hotspots, such as the U.S. Southeast,” said Sasha Stashwick from US NGO National Resources Defence Council (NRDC).

“Writing a blank cheque for more electricity from forest biomass without the required impact assessment risks increasing carbon emissions to the atmosphere for decades and diverts scarce resources from genuine zero-emission technologies, such as solar and wind.”

"Some of the plans submitted by Member States still show a strong dependency on food-based biofuels, which have very negative climate and environmental impacts due to land use change. The Commission has missed an opportunity and should encourage Member States to focus on cleaner and more sustainable energy sources for transport whilst eliminating their reliance on crop biofuels." Cristina Mestre from Transport and Environment said.

Following recommendations from the European Commission, EU Member States now have to step up the ambition of their climate plans so as to commit to reaching climate and energy targets. They must also disclose information about their underlying policies and measures such as those related to bioenergy.

Further reading

In a letter to the European Parliament, 800 scientists warned in January last year that bioenergy using wood deliberately harvested for burning will increase carbon in the atmosphere and increase warming for between decades and centuries even if they are used to replace fossil fuels.
Fern report Covered in Smoke, Why burning biomass threatens European health.
Fern briefing Burning trees for energy is no solution to climate change.
ECF report Carbon impacts of biomass consumed in the EU.

Bioenergy from Swedens' forests must not end up as aviation fuel. Foto: Manfred Irmer från Pixels

In year 2030, 30 per cent of the aviation fuel in Sweden will come from bioenergy, according to an investigation made by the Swedish politician Maria Wetterstrand (Green Party) and financed by the Swedish Energy Agency. The investigation disregards CO2 emissions from bioenergy and promotes increased clear-cutting of forests. Right now, many of the last unprotected natural forests in Sweden are being clear-cut.

Wetterstrand’s investigation suggests that the amount of bioenergy blended in Swedish fuel will increase successively from year 2021 to reach 100% bioenergy by year 2045. At the same time more and more scientists warn about the negative effects caused by bioenergy. But the Swedish forest industry and the Swedish government are not listening to this important message. Both Protect the Forest and Biofuelwatch have informed the Swedish government about the negative effects concerning bioenergy but have received no response. Protect the Forest proclaims that Wetterstrand’s investigation is a disappointment and that it gives the wrong signals.

According to Protect the Forest the government in Sweden must ensure that the aviation decreases and that the government promotes a greater investment in trains. Clear-cutting of boreal forests and increased aviation is worsening the global climate by adding more CO2 to the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the investigation comes to the opposite conclusion, stating that replacing fossil fuels with bioenergy will lead to less CO2 in the future.

In Sweden many politicians and others advocate that residues from clear-cuttings can be used as bioenergy and they believe that the residues merely consist of branches and tops of trees. But the fact is that 10% of the bioenergy from Swedish forests consists of whole logs. The risk is that unprotected natural forests will be felled to be used as biofuel. Many such forests are unprotected today and are already being felled which is harming the biodiversity.

The Swedish government is not paying attention to the scientists although 800 international scientists have warned about bioenergy from forests. The CO2 which is let out during the clear-cutting of boreal forests may take a century to accumulate again.

Protect the Forest reckons that a higher efficiency in the use of electricity is required, that the consumption and manufacture of paper must decrease and that products from forests and other nature-resources must decrease massively. All remaining natural forests must be protected, not cut-down. There must also be a drive for recycling and restoration of forests.

Photos from three de-registered woodland key habitats at Gällsjöberget and Högvedsberget in Sweden. Many red-listed species have been found in these valuable forests. Photos: Elin Götmark and Helena Björnström.

Sweden’s last remaining unprotected old-growth forests are under immediate pressure due to the government’s poor management of the state-owned forests. A new report shows that the state-owned forest company Sveaskog de-registers woodland key habitats, which are crucial for red-listed forest species. These forests are now at risk of being clear-cut. At the same time a campaign organized by all Swedish environmental organizations has delivered a petition signed by 45,000 Swedes, demanding that the Swedish state changes Sveaskog's instructions.

"Sweden likes to project an image of its so-called environmentally sustainable forestry, but in fact this is mostly greenwashing", says Elin Götmark, spokesperson for Protect the Forest Sweden.

"The conversion of Sweden's natural, mostly old-growth forest ecosystems into industrial monocultures still continues. But so does the fight to save the remaining unprotected natural forests. According to the UN Convention of Biological Diversity, we should protect at least 17% of all productive forest, and the EU Habitats Directive demands that the western taiga should have a favorable conservation status. We are far from reaching these goals, and the forests needed to meet them are logged every day", says Elin Götmark.

The report The old-growth forests threatened by the Swedish state by Protect the Forest Sweden and Greenpeace Sweden shows how Sveaskog has de-registered known woodland key habitats. Some of these forests are surveyed in the report, and many of them have been found to have high conservation value. Some of them are also registered to be logged. This means that customers who buy Sveaskog’s products marked with the FSC certification-label are misled, since the FSC standard forbids clear-cutting of woodland key habitats.

In accordance with the instructions issued by the Swedish government, Sveaskog’s primary obligation is to create a profit. This creates a strong incentive to prioritize logging over conservation, even in forests with high conservation value. A campaign organized by twenty-three Swedish environmental organizations in recent months has gathered many examples of forests with high conservation value that Sveaskog has clear-cut or planned to do so.

"Sweden's forests and its habitats are at a critical state, the campaign 'Our Forest' demands that the government alters Sveaskog's instructions so that they can start to prioritize nature conservation over profit", says Lina Burnelius, spokesperson for forest and bio-economic issues at Greenpeace.

"The last remaining unprotected high conservation value forests we have left here need to be protected. These forests contain biological values - and carbon storages - that cannot be preserved if the Swedish state, via Sveaskog, continues to log them. Today’s conversion from natural forest to monocultures needs to stop - neither climate nor biodiversity can handle this high rate of clear-cuts”, says Lina Burnelius.

“We demand that the forest industry makes it possible for us to actually meet our national and international environmental agreements. Forests are our natural climate solution - but only if the little that remains of our natural forest is protected instead of logged. If we are to reach the 1.5 degree target the last natural forests must be protected”, says Lina Burnelius.

It is not only on Sveaskog's land that biodiversity is threatened: a nation-wide inventory of Swedish woodland key habitats has recently been stopped by political parties with support of the government. Now when these areas are no longer being identified on official maps, FSC products from woodland key habitats are at risk of being sold to unaware customers worldwide.

"In canceling this inventory, the Swedish state is breaching its international obligations to preserve biodiversity”, says Elin Götmark.

Press contacts:

Elin Götmark, spokesperson for Protect the Forest,
+46706787423, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Lina Burnelius, spokesperson for forest and bio-economic issues, Greenpeace
+46722144360, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.