UNESCO has declared that any continued logging in Europe’s last remaining primeval woodlands, the Bialowieza Forest in Poland, will endanger its World Heritage Status.
Non-profit environmental law organisation ClientEarth, which led legal action last year to stop illegal logging in the forest, says the move sends a clear message to the Polish government to put conservation first in Bialowieza.
During this week’s summit in Azerbaijan, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee adopted a decision, which recommends limiting any future logging in Bialowieza Forest to necessary safety measures and activities related to nature conservation.
If Poland fails to comply with these recommendations, the forest will be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Bialowieza Forest is one of the last remaining natural forests in Europe and has been included on the World Heritage List for forty years because of its exceptional natural value and biodiversity. Yet in recent years its woodlands have suffered significant damage due to intensive logging while it has been managed by State Forests, a government-owned organisation charged with timber production.
ClientEarth wildlife lawyer Agata Szafraniuk said: “The decision of World Heritage Committee sends a clear message to the Polish government: any and all activities in the Bialowieza Forest must put nature conservation first. The only one exception is when human safety might be at risk.
“We hope that Poland’s Ministry of Environment and State Forests will respect the decision. If not, Bialowieza Forest may be put on the List of World Heritage in Danger, which would be an international shame for Poland.”
Logging in Białowieża sparked massive protests and prompted local campaigners to send a complaint to the European Commission. The logging was eventually declared illegal by the Court of Justice of the EU.
Since then, UNESCO has been closely monitoring the situation in the forest. Current recommendations of the World Heritage Committee were based on the findings of IUCN and UNESCO experts who went on a mission to Bialowieza in 2018.
The Committee’s decision comes at a time when State Forests are reportedly finishing preparations to recommence logging in Bialowieza. New logging permits, which will allow them to do so, are awaiting the approval of the Minister of Environment.
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ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin, Madrid and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.