In May 2018, the Council of the EU adopted a new LULUCF Regulation, which accounts for the removals and emissions of the land use sector, including forests. The result is unfortunate. Based on Fern analysis, the outcome sets an objective to maintain – rather than increase - the amount of CO2 being absorbed annually by land and forests across the EU; this is not compatible with the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, the final set of rules agreed upon allow countries to hide a significant amount of emissions caused by an increase in logging. The EU still has the opportunity to make a U-turn on its attitude towards sinks and forests to be in line with the 1.5˚C target when it revises its long-term decarbonisation strategy over coming years; it must not waste this chance.
Just ahead of final negotiations on the EU’s new Renewable Energy Directive in early June 2018, two reports underlined the potential negative climate impacts of using woody biomass for energy production. Chatham House’s ‘Woody Biomass for Power and Heat’ examines the patterns of demand and supply of biomass in nine EU countries, and the related policy framework in those countries. Discussing the new Renewable Energy Directive’s sustainability criteria for biomass, the report finds that “their ability to restrict the impact on the climate of the use of biomass for energy will be limited”. Forest Research’s ‘Carbon impacts of forest biomass consumed in the EU’ was commissioned by the European Climate Foundation to clarify the findings an original study they conducted for the European Commission that informed the Commission’s Impact Assessment on Bioenergy Sustainability. The new report concludes that, “unless appropriate policy measures are taken […], a significant increase in bioenergy use in the EU is likely to lead to a net increase, rather than decrease, in GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions being contributed from bioenergy sources.” The researchers developed 15 detailed sustainability criteria, but also concluded that the new Renewable Energy Directive covers only six of these 15 criteria, and of those, only three that would deliver a direct policy signal.
French tycoon Vincent Bolloré, who built a business empire in 46 African countries over 30 years, has lost a defamation case he brought against the France 2 television station and its award-winning journalist Tristan Waleckx (FW 232). Bolloré is a main shareholder of SOCFIN, a Luxemburg-based palm oil and rubber company, which has been repeatedly urged to respect the rights of local communities and stop land-grabbing in Cameroon and elsewhere. On 5 June 2018, the Criminal Court of Nanterre (Paris) ruled that the programme at the heart of the dispute, “Complément d’enquête”, exposing Bolloré’s neo-colonial practices in Cameroon, is not defamatory. The ruling is good news for France’s freedom of press but also a strong recognition of the legitimacy of SYNAPARCAM’s fight: the coalition has long represented more than 1,100 villagers in Cameroon in their fight against land-grabbing by SOCFIN (FW 226). SYNAPARCAM’s leader, Emmanuel Elong, a Cameroonian farmer, travelled to Paris in April to testify in favour of the France 2 journalist; concern for his personal security was such that Elong had to be accompanied by bodyguards for the duration of his stay. Earlier this year, Bolloré lost another case he had initiated against the press and NGOs, another victory for watchdogs of corporate accountability. In April, Bolloré was placed in police custody in Nanterre as part of a separate investigation into “bribing foreign public officials” in Africa (Togo and Guinea). Notably, Bolloré’s business associate Hubert Fabri, the main shareholder of SOCFIN, appeared in a Belgian court in May 2018, accused of corruption.
On 31 May 2018 in Brazzaville, representatives from government, civil society, academia, international organisations and the private sector from Central Africa and the EU adopted a roadmap for participatory forestry in the Congo Basin. The new roadmap makes constructive reference to community forestry and the contribution it could make to local livelihoods and healthy ecosystems – a major breakthrough for communities’ rights advocates. The region’s forests cover more than two million km2 and provide essential ecosystem services for local communities; they must be protected for current and future generations. At the meeting, Fern and its regional partners, including Centre pour l’Environnement et le Développement (CED), Observatoire Congolais des Droits de l’Homme (OCDH), and Centre pour l’Information Environnementale et le Développement Durable (CIEDD), underscored the importance of community forestry for achieving commitments in Voluntary Partnership Agreements, stressing that strengthening community tenure and protecting forest peoples’ rights are key to the success of participatory forestry. Broad support for and effective implementation of the road map could contribute, not only to the defense of their resources and cultures and of their fundamental right to participate, but also to the EU and timber-producing countries’ shared goals for climate and governance.