We started this year determined to do all we could to help save one of the most precious forests in Europe, the ancient Białowieża Forest. As every month passed, the UNESCO site was thrust continuously into the spotlight.
The unique biodiversity of Białowieża Forest is threatened by increased logging which was approved by the Polish environment minister back in 2016. Soon after, ClientEarth together with six other NGOs filed a complaint to the European Commission pointing out that the decision breached EU nature laws. Our legal fight had begun.
The forest’s woodpeckers and pygmy owls are undoubtedly grateful to you and all those who followed this story and supported our legal fight. Their home is safe for now. And that wasn’t guaranteed at all.
So, let’s consider what happened this year
April – The European Commission takes the final step before litigation in the Court of Justice of the European Union over illegal logging in Białowieża Forest and issues its reasoned opinion, giving detailed objections to be used when the case goes to court.
May – the last deadline passes for the Polish government to provide a final response regarding illegal logging. If not satisfactory, the case would go to the Court of Justice. Activist protests in Białowieża Forest begin.
June – Logging and protests in Białowieża Forest continue.
July – UNESCO urges the Polish authorities to stop logging in Białowieża Forest. It warns that the forest could end up on the List of World Heritage sites in danger if the situation does not change. The European Commission then files a complaint to the Court of Justice. The top EU court issues a preliminary ban on logging. From now on almost all logging in Białowieża Forest is illegal – yet this does not prevent the Polish environment minister from continuing with it.
August – The logging continues. Heavy machinery is in use.
September – The first hearing at the Court of Justice regarding interim measures (a temporary ban on logging) takes place. The European Commission submits a formal request to the court to impose fines if the Polish authorities breach interim measures. This request sets a precedent.
October – An additional hearing in front of the Grand Chamber (15 judges) of the Court of Justice regarding interim measures (a temporary ban on logging, until the final judgement) takes place.
November – The final judgement by the Court of Justice. Logging has to stop. If it does not, the Polish authorities will pay €100,000 per day in fines. The heavy machinery operating in the forest stops. Hooray!
December – The first and last hearing in the main case regarding Białowieża Forest takes place.
We are looking forward to the New Year with great hope. We believe that 2018 will be a year when we find a lasting solution to protect this unique forest from harmful and destructive activities.