Expert assessment: Drafting of Estonia's forestry development plan non-transparent

  • 2022-08-12
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - A recent expert assessment commissioned by environmental protection organizations concluded that Estonia's draft forestry development plan 2030 contradicts sustainable forestry objectives and fails to fulfill legal obligations.

In order for the plan to meet legal requirements, the planned logging volume therein needs to be significantly reduced and concrete efficient measures need to be put in place to protect biodiversity, climate as well as social and cultural needs, the experts who studied the plan said.

The assessment conducted in cooperation between Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) and the Estonian Environmental Law Center on the compatibility of the draft forestry development plan 2030 with the legal obligations on sustainable development says that during the drafting of the forestry development plan, the legal requirements of sustainable development have been breached together with the legal obligations established for the protection of biodiversity and mitigation of climate change. The assessment concludes that just as the management of Estonian forests in the past few decades cannot be regarded as sustainable, the contents of the draft forestry development plan do not serve sustainable forestry goals in any way. 

Member of the management board of the NGO Paastame Eesti Metsad (Save Estonia's Forests) Liina Steinberg said that the approach to solving problems related to biodiversity, climate change and sociocultural needs has been superficial, whereas extensive attention has been paid to competitiveness in forestry and the needs of forest-based industries.

"In this specific form, this is a development plan for the forest-based industry, not forestry, supported by the desire to continue with the current intense volume of logging and other practices favoring the industry. What should be particularly alarming is the expert assessment pointing out that depending on the source of information, the forestry statistics on logging and forest growth vary extensively and the data is unreliable in many cases," Steinberg added.

The legal contradictions in the draft development plan concern the choice of logging scenarios, protection of biodiversity, climate change as well as the inclusion of the public in the drafting process.

"Most measures planned in the draft forestry development plan, such as logging that causes damage to biodiversity and failure to resolve biodiversity-related problems, contradict the requirements of the EU Habitats Directive, Birds Directive, and biodiversity strategy. The plan does not enable Estonia to fulfill its climate obligations and continued late and inefficient inclusion of the public in the drafting of the plan may lead to the final development plan being incompatible with the law," Kart Vaarmari, one of the authors of the assessment and an environmental lawyer at the Estonian Environmental Law Center, said.

"The resolution of legal problems in the forestry development plan 2030 needs to start from an extensive reduction of logging volumes and planning of substantive action that is in line with the law," she added.

Over the years, environmental organizations have repeatedly given similar feedback to the draft forestry development plan during its preparation, but it has mostly been ignored.

Mary S. Booth, director of Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) and co-author of the expert assessment, said that large-scale industrial logging in Estonia has reduced the ability of forests to store carbon dioxide, which clearly shows that logging volumes have not been sustainable even according to the narrowest definition.

"Therefore, it is shocking to see that the draft forestry development plan essentially sets out to continue business as usual, which means that the Estonian forestry sector continues to be a contributor to climate change, not a provider of solutions," Booth said.

The drafting of the forestry development plan 2030 began in 2017 under the leadership of the Ministry of the Environment. In 2018, a working group was formed to prepare a proposal for the development plan. In parallel with the meetings of the working group, a core study was ordered from researchers.

The Ministry of the Environment submitted a proposal for the preparation of the forestry development plan to the government, which initiated the preparation of the forestry development plan on Jan. 10, 2019. In December 2020, the then minister of the environment Rain Epler terminated the activities of the forestry development plan steering committee. On March 24, 2021, a new governing body was formed by a directive of Epler's successor, Tonis Molder. Currently, the assessment report on the environmental impact and other important impacts of the forestry development plan 2030 is ready, and proposals can be submitted until Aug. 16.

PFPI, co-author and funder of the expert assessment, is a non-profit organization established in the United States in 2010. PFPI's mission is to advocate for good policies that protect the climate, ecosystems, and people through research, policy analysis, and strategic communication. PFPI's activities are mainly focused on forest, climate and bioenergy. All PFPI funding comes from charitable organizations operating in the United States or the European Union.

The NGO Paastame Eesti Metsad is a cooperation partner of PFPI.