Yehor Hrynyk, “Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group”, [email protected]
War as a justification for more logging!
The EU and other countries should strengthen sanctions against Russian and Belarusian wood!
An investigation by the British NGO Earthsight, published on November 25, shows that the largest furniture retailers in the EU continue to buy furniture produced in Belarus. And not just any furniture, but furniture produced with the forced labor of political prisoners of the penal colonies of the regime of the Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko.
According to Earthsight, Belarussian penal colonies are some of the largest producers of furniture in the country. How does this affect us and our forests here in Ukraine?
The Russian invasion, supported by Belarus, has an extremely negative impact on Ukrainian forests: starting from the direct destruction of forests during hostilities, ending with an increase in the volume of felling, which is caused by the difficult state of the Ukrainian war economy. The sooner Russia is defeated, the less forests of Ukraine will be affected.
Earlier this year, our organisation led calls for the EU, UK and US to act swiftly to ban wood from Russia and Belarus, calls that were supported by more than 125 groups around the world.
Sanctions are among the most effective tools in the fight against Russia and its ally, Belarus. However, the sanctions against Russian and Belarusian wood introduced by the EU following our calls back in spring 2022 do not cover furniture, seating and some other wooden products. Sanctions implemented by other countries are even more fragmented. All this leaves numerous loopholes to avoid sanctions that must be closed immediately. According to Earthsight, EU furniture companies from Poland, Germany, France, Belgium and other countries import Belarusian furniture worth millions of euros monthly.
Therefore, we are calling for the urgent expansion of the list of sanctions to cover all Russian and Belarusian timber and wood-based products (including furniture). This is critically important not only for the fight against the aggressor, but also for the preservation of Ukraine’s forests. We call on the leadership of the EU and countries like the UK and US to act as soon as possible!
New efforts to cancel EIA for logging in Ukraine
The environmental impact assessment (EIA) procedure was introduced in Ukraine in 2017 according to the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement. During this time, the EIA became a mechanism that allowed protection of many valuable forests throughout Ukraine: according to national legislation, the EIA is mandatory to carry out before logging. Equally important, the EIA is one of the few opportunities for civil society to influence the forest management plans.
However, ever since the introduction of the EIA on logging, the forest industry has been actively opposing it. Over the past five years the management of the forest industry of Ukraine often emphasized the need to cancel the EIA in the forest sector because it seems to “hold back” the “effective” management of forests.
The last attempt to cancel the EIA for logging took place in November 2022. The management of the forest industry sent such proposals to the Parliament of Ukraine, leading to calls to cancel the EIA on logging based on the fact that it is not envisaged by the relevant EU directives. As a result, the MPs established a working group to study this issue. At the same time, environmental NGOs strongly opposed the foresters’ initiative.
It is important to note that since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion, the EIA in Ukraine has been operating in a significantly “reduced” mode. Back in March, the Parliament excluded projects aimed at “rebuilding” the country from the scope of the EIA. A little later, the government significantly limited access to the online register of projects that are undergoing the EIA, therefore complicating the life of activists who actively participated in the procedure. The reasoning given for such restrictions has been unconvincing.
Along with this, the reform of forest management continues. In the last newsletter, we mentioned that the government plans to merge most of the state forest enterprises of Ukraine (more than 130 as of now) into a single state-owned company- “Forests of Ukraine”. MPs failed to block such a reform due to the veto of the President of Ukraine, so the unification process continues. Such a union may facilitate an increase in logging rates in Ukraine – a plan announced by the authorities – but in no way solves the problems of corruption, illegal logging and the conservation of forest biodiversity.
New draft laws threaten the forests of Ukraine!
This autumn the Ukrainian parliament is reviewing at least two draft laws, the adoption of which could have an extremely negative impact on Ukrainian forests. Both of them claim to be the reaction by Ukrainian authorities to the full-scale Russian invasion.
The first is draft law #8058, designed to “deregulate doing business in Ukraine.” If passed, the law will allow the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine to cancel any restrictions (permits, approvals, procedures) on almost any business without any public discussion.
This also applies to forests. In fact, the government will be able to lift any environmental restrictions on logging. The bill envisages that civil society will not even know about such “deregulation” until the authorities make final decisions. Therefore, draft law #8058 not only creates corruption and environmental risks but also directly contradicts European and international legislation, in particular the Aarhus Convention.
The draft law #8178 is no less problematic. By design, it aims to simplify the process of rebuilding Ukrainian infrastructure. In fact, it significantly simplifies the construction of residential and infrastructure facilities (for example, energy facilities) in forests. In other words, it simplifies deforestation in Ukraine.
More than 20 Ukrainian NGOs have already opposed the adoption of draft law #8058. Both bills are still under consideration, but the probability of their adoption is high.
Our organisation and various other commentators have noted how some authorities are cynically using Russia’s invasion on Ukraine to water down environmental controls, and these proposed bills show that this continues to be the case This must not be allowed to happen.