On the way to a fancy pants conference on forests and climate at the European Commission, a bunch of activists get soaked in the Brussels pouring rain. A massive 50 meter banner reads “Save European Primary Forests!”. “European” was flipped over “Romanian”. Symbolically, this sums up the conference.

Frans Timmermans presented himself as the tree-hugger in chief of the EU. “Tackling the climate crisis is not about saving the planet, it’s about saving the humanity. The planet can survive us – it’ll simply get rid of us.”

Timmermans, tree-hugger in chief

The overarching message is that we need to protect biodiversity and natural ecosystems… but this needs to be done the right way. “Planting trees on a peatland might be not very smart, but protecting primary forests is the right thing and very urgent,” says Timmermans.

“We need to fight deforestation of primary forests – afforestation is not the right response to deforestation of primary forests,” the tree-hugger in chief ends it.

The author of Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben, was the key-note. And he made the case against biomass big time.

“Burning trees is not a climate solution, but rather a threat. Pay times of wood born CO2 emissions are way too long to be climate neutral,” Wohlleben asserted. Biomass is a disaster for forests and the climate – biomass is actually worse than coal.  We won’t retain forests by cutting down the trees! In a small nutshell, this what we retain from the author’s speech and it’s utterly powerful. Having forest biomass considered as a clean form of energy (according to the Renewable Energies Directive) is pure madness. It is the reason for which 2Celsius joined as a plaintiff the EU Biomass Case.

“Stop subsidising biomass – that is deforestation – and start working in protecting primary forests,” Michal Wiezik, MEP, underlined. Most speakers and commentators mentioned the enormous value of Romanian virgin forests and their big capacity for carbon sinks.

“Several of the speakers at the conference made it clear that the myth of ‘carbon neutrality’ of burning trees for energy is dead. Forest harvesting for fuel has been repeatedly called out as one of the greatest threats to forests,” says Mary S. Booth with the Partnership for Policy Integrity in the U.S.

Pascal Canfin, Member of the European Parliament, President of ENVI Committee made note of the concept of imported deforestation: “EU is number 1 in fostering that. Is a product contributing or not to deforestation? There must be an EU label to know that – such as the type of “organic” or “fair trade” labelling.” Consumers should be aware if a product involved deforestation and make a conscientious choice accordingly.

A proposal in this sense will come from the Parliament this summer – a standard for products (such as coffee or coco) that will assess its impact on forests.

Green groups deem this labelling of deforestation as straightforwardly dangerous. It is indeed worrying to propose labels showing if products come from forest destruction. Laws should curb and ban deforestation and not concede to criminal trade – labelling destruction does not re-root trees nor repair human rights abuses in developing countries.

In the framework of the Green Deal we need to look at a paradigm shift, Daniel Calleja Crespo, Director-General, Directorate General for the Environment, European Commission, states. “Managing a forest is providing ecosystem services that have to be remunerated: owners need to be remunerated for managing a forest sustainably.”

The Forest Information System for Europe (FISE) will be up by the end of the year and it will be an excellent tool to fight illegal logging and plan forest management. This will…

“Make forests great again!” the bureaucrat paraphrased.

Mauro Petriccione, Director-General, Directorate General for Climate Action, European Commission, underlined bluntly:

“Without a carbon sink acknowledged we will not be able to fight climate change. Also we are losing this carbon sink every summer on a big scale. Additional damage: loss of biodiversity. Regulations are good at stopping people doing things, but a positive approach would be remunerate people for doing good things.” And those good things are remunerations or compensations for sustainable managers and owners of forests.