The monoculture pine plantation in Kachung. Native species are cleared to make way for large tracts of single species pine and eucalypt.

The Swedish Energy Agency stops purchasing carbon credits from the Norwegian forestry company Green Resources. The carbon offset project consists of large-scale pine plantations in Kachung in Uganda, which have caused environmental degradation and loss of land and livelihoods for local villagers. Over the last years, Protect the Forest and several other NGOs have raised their voices against the project.

Green Resources monoculture pine plantations has led to forced evictions of local villagers from land which previously was used for small-scale subsistence farming and livestock herding. This has led to loss of livelihoods and caused a food security crisis, according to a report from the Oakland Institute. Natural grasslands, open canopy woodlands and small-scale agricultural lands have been converted into plantations with non-native and invasive tree species. This has had devastating impacts on the natural environment and the ecosystem services it provides.

The Oakland Institute is an independent policy think tank made up of researchers, among others. According to the Institute, climate change is being used as an excuse to introduce a new form of colonialism in Africa. Already in 2014, the Oakland Institute revealed abuse and violence against locals in Kachung. The Swedish Energy Agency then temporarily suspended its purchase of carbon credits from Green Resources but did not terminate the agreement.

The Oakland Institute has exposed the devastating impact of the Green Resources pine plantation in several reports, but it is only after the third report (2019), that the Swedish Energy Agency announced its suspension of payments. Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, said in a press release:

“Despite solid evidence and documentation, Green Resources and its financiers, including the Swedish Energy Agency, callously, not only turned a blind eye to the victims of their ‘green’ fraud, but also dismissed our findings. If they had paid heed to the concerns raised in 2014, which should have been obvious to the Swedish Energy Agency if due diligence had been done from the get go, Green Resources could not have gotten away with causing hunger, displacement, and distress amongst the population of 17 villages for this long.”

Sara Sundberg, spokesperson for the Swedish Energy Agency, said in an article in Development Today that one of the reasons for pulling out of the carbon deal is because of unresolved conflicts regarding land use. This includes lack of progress in an on-going legal dispute over land between local communities and the Ugandan government - a civil suit filed in 2008 by 300 people who claim to have lost their due to Kachung.

“Land grabbing from Ugandan villagers to set up non-native pine plantations is a false climate solution, designed to allow polluters in Northern countries to continue with business as usual,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.

Green Resources blames the Oakland Institute for the Swedish Energy Agency’s termination of the agreement, while the Agency denies that pressure from NGOs influenced its decision.

The Swedish Energy Agency’s decision is a step towards justice for local communities. The Oakland Institute renews its call for Green Resources and its financial backers to be held responsible. The protracted misery inflicted on Kachung’s communities can only be rightfully addressed with the immediate end of this devastating project, so that they can reclaim their land and livelihoods.

In 2018, Protect the Forest, Oakland Institute and several other organizations sent a joint open letter to the Swedish Energy Agency.

A clear-cut in Sweden. Photo: Agnetha Lundberg/Swedish Association for Nature Photographers.

Sweden presents itself as a global torchbearer on the environment, but its forest policy is wreaking havoc. The EU must act to stop it, say five NGOs from different EU countries.

Sweden is consistently ranked near or at the top of the world’s most environmentally-friendly industrial nations. The International Energy Agency (IEA) calls the country a “global leader in building a low-carbon economy”.

However, when it comes to Swedish forests – which cover almost 70% of the country – it is a very different story.

Sweden is the world’s third largest exporter of paper, pulp and sawn wood products. The country promotes itself as a paragon of sustainable forestry practices. But this is an illusion on a grand scale.

In truth, old, natural forests are more scarce in Sweden than ever before. Sweden still holds a considerable proportion of the remaining high conservation value forests of northwestern Europe but the area is decreasing. About 2.7 million hectares of productive forest land below the mountain region in Sweden is estimated to consist of continuity forests which lack formal protection and have never been subject to clear-felling.

Natural forests are systematically being clear-cut to acquire supposedly sustainable wood products and bioenergy, and replaced by even-aged tree plantations, poor of species. The climate crisis is being used by the Swedish forest industry as an excuse to increase its forest harvest and production rates.

Over 90 % of all forests in Sweden have already been affected by forestry in some way. According to official reporting under the EU Habitats Directive, 14 of 15 forest biotopes in Sweden do not have a favorable conservation status. The on-going logging of these biotopes violates the Habitats Directive which should ensure the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora. In 2010, more than one third of the total fellings did not comply with the basic and general environmental requirements of the Swedish Forestry Act. Mainly due to this habitat destruction, over 1,800 forest-living species are red-listed in Sweden.

Sweden has implemented the EU Bird and Habitats Directive in its Species Protection Ordinance which prohibits the damaging of breeding and resting sites for birds and other species. However, there are obvious flaws in the implementation considering that breeding sites are often affected by forestry, and there are rarely any sanctions.

The EU Timber Regulation prohibits operators in Europe from placing illegally harvested timber and products derived from illegal timber on the EU market. Legal timber is defined as timber that is in compliance with the laws of the country where it is harvested. When Sweden violates the EU nature law and the general requirements of national environmental legislation, where is the line drawn for illegally harvested timber?

Despite the critical forest situation, the Swedish Forest Agency has decided that at the end of 2020 it will stop registering areas classified as ‘woodland key habitats’ when forest areas are notified for felling. A woodland key habitat is a forest area that is of major importance for the flora and fauna, which often harbors endangered and rare species. According to the Swedish FSC forest certification standard, woodland key habitats must be exempted from felling.

The Swedish Forest Agency has also recently released a report with several measures for intensified forest management. The measures promote increased logging, clearing of ditches and more plantations, instead of preventing biodiversity loss and emissions of greenhouse gases.

When forests are clear-cut, large volumes of greenhouse gases are released from the soil, especially on peat land. In general, there is a pattern of decreasing carbon pools in tree plantations as compared to native forests. In Sweden, over half of the productive forests are young, less than 60 years old.

This year, national and international environmental targets should already have been met. At least 17-20 percent of all of terrestrial areas should be conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas. The rate of loss of all natural habitats should be at least halved and where feasible brought close to zero. Today, only about 6 percent of the productive forest land in Sweden is formally protected.

Forest biodiversity around the world faces grave threats, and Sweden is no exception. Sweden is failing to reach its environmental targets. The potential to achieve these targets is reduced every time there is logging in a high conservation value forest.

In order to stop the on-going degradation of the forest landscape in Sweden, 70 NGOs and 30 scientists have recently sent an open letter to the Swedish Parliament, Government and the Swedish Forest Agency, demanding that forestry is stopped in all high conservation value forests and that the national budget allocated to forest protection is increased. They also demanded that the state-owned forestry company Sveaskog should be given amended owner directives with a lower required rate of return to be able to achieve the environmental targets regarding sustainable forests and biodiversity. Today, Sveaskog has a relatively high required rate of return which tends to make their business more focused on production rather than environment.

We call on the EU to immediately act to make sure that the EU Birds and Habitats Directives is fully implemented in Sweden in order to safeguard natural habitats and wild fauna and flora. The EU also needs to put pressure on Sweden to continue to register woodland key habitats when forest areas are notified for felling after 2020. All forests with high conservation values need to be protected. Furthermore, clear-cutting forestry needs to be phased out and replaced by forestry without clear-cutting methods in forests that do not hold high conservation values.

It is time for the EU to ensure that one of the world's most “environmentally friendly” industrial nations does not harvest its timber illegally - and thereby lives up to its international reputation.

Julian Klein, Spokesperson, Protect the Forest Sweden
Isadora Wronski, Interim Programme Manager, Greenpeace Sweden
Kelsey Perlman, Forest and Climate Campaigner, Fern, EU
Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch, United Kingdom/USA
Jana Ballenthien, Forest campaigner, ROBIN WOOD, Germany

Read the full op-ed iin Euractiv here.

Old beech forest that has been felled in one of Romania’s national parks to become bioenergy.

Unique virgin forests are being logged in national parks, nature reserves and Natura 2000 sites in Romania. This has been ongoing for several years right in front of the eyes of the EU and with the support of the Romanian Government. In the beginning of February, Protect the Forest signed an open letter together with other international environmental NGOs in order to get the Romanian Government to act. Your support is needed – sign the petition in order to change the situation. Also watch this documentary, and share it!

However, now the European Commission is taking legal action against Romanian authorities for illegal logging of Europe's last primeval forests.

The announcement follows complaints submitted last year to the European Commission by environmental groups Agent Green, ClientEarth and EuroNatur against Romania’s ongoing and deliberate destruction of tens of thousands of hectares of its protected old-growth and primeval forests.

The groups mean that Romania’s state forestry management is conducting logging operations within protected Natura 2000 areas without proper analysis of the impact in these unique sites. Failure to carry adequate and strategic environmental assessments when approving logging in protected areas and lack of access to environmental information breaches EU law.

The environmental groups therefore welcome the launch of the Commission’s infringement proceedings against Romania as a new hope to protect the country’s natural forests.

The Romanian government will have one month to send a detailed reply to the concerns raised by the European Commission. The Commission will then decide whether to take further steps towards bringing the case before the Court of Justice of the European Union – the EU’s highest court.

Read more in Euronatur’s press release here.

The state-owned forest company Sveaskog logged a 200 year old natural forest with red-listed species at Guorpaliden in Arvidsjaur municipality in Sweden 2017. Photo: Björn Mildh.

Today, 70 organizations from 25 countries and 30 scientists send an open letter to Swedish Ministers, Members of the Swedish Parliament and authorities, demanding that all forests with high conservation values in Sweden should be protected and that clear-cutting forestry is phased out. The signatories write that decision makers need to act now to stop grave threats against the climate and forest biodiversity.

The 70 organizations and the 30 scientists who have signed the open letter stress that Sweden does not achieve its national and international environmental targets. They refer to the EU Habitats Directive, where it is reported that as many as 14 of 15 forest habitats have unfavorable conservation status in Sweden. The loss of habitats is considered to be the major contributing reason to why more than 1,800 forest plant and animal species are red-listed, that is, near threatened or threatened, in the country today.

“Given how critical the situation is for the biodiversity and climate, it is shameful that forests with high natural values still are being logged and are planned for logging in Sweden. The fate of the small last remnants of northwest Europe's old-growth forests, and all species who depend on it, rests on the politicians of today. Sweden is one of the richest countries in the world and it is beyond our comprehension that we do not take our responsibility towards the rest of the world and act exemplarily by protecting these valuable forests,” said Julian Klein, spokesperson for Protect the Forest.

The Swedish Forest Agency has recently decided that at the end of 2020 it will stop registering woodland key habitats when forest areas are notified for felling. A woodland key habitat is a forest area that is of major importance for the flora and fauna, which often harbors endangered and rare species. According to the Swedish FSC forest certification standard, woodland key habitats must be exempted from felling.

The Swedish Forest Agency has also recently released a report with several measures for intensified forest management. Measures such as increased logging, clearing of ditches and more plantations are promoted instead of preventing biodiversity loss and emissions of greenhouse gases.

“Instead of preventing logging of high conservation value forests in Sweden, the Swedish Forest Agency acts in the opposite direction by making it easier to intensify forest production. This is detrimental to the climate and to biodiversity, both under extreme pressure in this climate crisis,” said Isadora Wronski, Interim Programme Manager, Greenpeace Sweden.

In the open letter, the 70 organizations and the 30 scientists write that the situation demands that:

- Woodland key habitats continue to be registered when forest areas are notified for felling after 2020.

- Forestry is stopped in all high conservation value forests. This includes core areas along with registered and unregistered woodland key habitats. Forests in High Value Forest Landscapes and continuity forests as well as forests with unknown biological values must be visited in the field and inventoried prior to any kind of planned forestry operation. If high conservation values are discovered, these areas should be exempt from forestry.

- The state-owned forestry company Sveaskog is given amended owner directives with a lower required rate of return to be able to achieve the environmental targets regarding sustainable forests and biodiversity.

- The budget allocated to forest protection is increased to 5 billion SEK per year, starting during this Government’s tenure, until all high conservation value forests are protected in a long-term, quality assured and transparent way, with a landscape ecology approach.

- Clear-cutting forestry is phased out and replaced by forestry without clear-cutting methods in forests without high conservation values.

Among the 70 signatories of the open letter are Protect the Forest, Greenpeace Sweden, Friends of the Earth EuropeFERN (EU), Biofuelwatch (United Kingdom/US), Global Forest Coaltion (international), Robin Wood (Germany) och Australian Forests and Climate Alliance (Australia).

Professors, Associate Professors and doctoral candidates are among the 30 scientists (based in Sweden) who have signed the open letter.

Contact

Julian Klein, Spokesperson, Protect the Forest Sweden, phone: +46 (0)72 737 42 34, email: jg.klein(@)protonmail.com

Isadora Wronski, Interim Programme Manager, Greenpeace Sweden, phone: +46 (0)70 301 25 34, email: isadora.wronski(@)greenpeace.org

Download the full open letter here.

Unsustainable forestry, Luopioinen, Pälkäne, Finland. Photo: Tero Laakso, Creative Commons (CCO by 2.0)

Protect the Forest has sent a mail to all the Members of the European Parliament and to the European Commission urging them to take action against the clear-cutting of northern Europe’s last unprotected natural forests. Increased logging is being promoted by the Swedish Forest Industries, The Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF) and the Center Party claiming that active forest management is best for the climate.

The Swedish Forest Industries, LRF and the Center Party have formed the network ”Wood be Better”, a campaign which is being promoted in Brussels. According to the campaign, the substitution of fossil fuels with wood will contribute to EU becoming climate neutral by 2050. To reach this goal more forests will need to be logged for the production of bioenergy and for products with short lifespans. Sweden’s forestry is neither sustainable or climate neutral and so it is a false solution that leads to mass extinction and adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

More voices need to be heard that contradict the forest industries’ propaganda. In the mail to the Members of the European Parliament there is a link to the documentary “BURNED: Are Trees the New Coal?”. The film shows how the burning of wood at an industrial scale for energy accelerates the destruction of forests for fuel, probes the policy loopholes, uses huge subsidies and greenwashes the biomass power industry. In the documentary Mary S. Booth, PhD, Director and Ecosystems Ecologist, Partnership for Policy Integrity, says: “If you are interested in reducing emissions now, then burning something that puts more carbon into the air than the thing you are replacing, which is coal, does not make sense."

The Members of the European Parliament and the European Commission need to know that many Swedish natural forests with high conservation values still remain unprotected, are planned for logging or are being clear-cut.

Here is the letter to the Members of the European Parliament and to the European Commission:

Please act to stop the clear-cutting of northern Europe’s last unprotected natural forests!
Sweden’s last remaining unprotected natural forests in Europe are now being rapidly clear-cut for bioenergy and short-term products. This is not in line with current research such as international reports from IPBES and IPCC, or in line with the Paris climate goal agreement or biodiversity goals.

The documentary BURNED: Are Trees the New Coal? (2019) shows how the burning of wood at an industrial scale for energy accelerates the destruction of forests for fuel. Policy loopholes, huge subsidies, and greenwashing of biomass power industry makes this possible. In Sweden, the forest industry argues that forests should be clear-cut to mitigate climate change. This idea coincides with the industry’s business interest and is a false climate solution. Over 80% of all forest products in Sweden have short lifespans and do not store carbon for a longer period.

The remaining forests in Europe need urgent protection. In Sweden at least 17-20 percent of all ecologically representative and well-connected land areas should have been protected by 2020, according to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). Today only 6 percent of the productive forest in Sweden has long-term protection.
The on-going logging is a great threat to biodiversity and research shows that loss of biodiversity is a problem of the same magnitude as climate change and fundamental to human survival.”

By Kristina Bäck