Raul Cazan & 2Celsius Network
Raul Cazan is the founder of 2Celsius, which brings academic arguments around green issues to life through two channels.
The first is the 2Celsius Association, which trains young people in Romania to work on the environment, climate change, and sustainable development.
The second is the 2Celsuis Network, of which Cazan is editor-in-chief. The Network makes documentaries and has an environmental media portal promoting the green economy and mapping the impact of climate change in Central and Eastern Europe.
Cazan has written books and published research on different themes related to environmental law and politics, and for several years 2Celsius has documented the threat that large-scale biomass energy poses to forests and the climate.
In Romania, this means the destruction of some of the last natural forests in Europe.
As an umbrella organisation, 2Celsius is representing many people in this case – including scientists, film-makers, campaigners and journalists – affected by the biomass industry.
● Romania has some of the last expanses of Europe’s ancient old growth forests, which are exceptionally rich in biodiversity. The country’s forests have been a haven for those fleeing persecution from medieval to modern times, and their place in the national life is exemplified in the old saying: “Romanians are brothers to the forest”. Yet since the end of communism, vast swathes of them have been destroyed, with illegal logging and corruption rife.
● Romania’s former environment minister, Cristiana Paşca Palmer, summed up the logging in Romania’s forests concisely. At a forest conference in Bucharest in 2016, she said “Romania’s forests have cancer”.
● While various forces are driving increased logging in Romania’s pristine forests, it is clear that subsidies for biomass as a renewable fuel are making it cost effective to log in areas that were once untouched.
● The government appears to be hiding the scale of illegal logging in Romania. In December 2018 leaked excerpts of the second Romanian national forest inventory (NFI) revealed an alarming loss of mature and high value forests due to massive logging pressure. This NFI has not yet been officially released, but according to the inventory, the average annual wood harvest between 2008 and 2018 was about 38.6 million cubic meters – about double the 18 million cubic meters have been approved with forest management plans. Meanwhile, Eurostat official data on roundwood removals report even less wood being harvested, with the combined total of fuelwood and industrial roundwood at 14.5 million m3 in 2017. Thus, these official figures are missing half the wood that the NFI shows is being removed. The NGO Green submitted a letter concerning the withholding of the data.
● In recent years the pressure on Romania’s forests has clearly increased because of the demand for biomass, which supplies 70 per cent of Romania’s renewable energy.
● This increasing wood use is reflected in biomass emissions reported by Romania and Poland, which combined were about 51 million metric tonnes in 2016, having increased 71% since 2000. None of these emissions are officially counted, but as the majority of them come from burning wood, this means the emissions are not replaced by plant regrowth in a short period. Thus, those emissions are warming the climate.
● An investigation of corporate tax records by 2Celsius’s partner organization, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), shows that in 2014, over 60 per cent of the sales of one of the main consumers of Romanian forest wood, the Austrian company Holzindustrie Schweighofer, consisted of wood pellets, briquettes, and woodchips. The company’s annual turnover is around half a billion euros.
● EIA’s extensively documented report explains that much of Schweighofer’s operations are focused on producing “energy wood”. EIA concludes: “As is shown in this report, increasing demand for biomass is directly associated with deforestation in Europe and is a key driver of illegal logging in Romanian forests.” Investigations indicate that Schweighofer is a major consumer of illegally harvested wood.
“Scientists, activists and conservationists in Romania, Poland, and elsewhere are fighting an uphill battle to protect some of the last living laboratories for science, the natural forests of the continent.
These natural forest ecosystems are not only some of the last barriers against catastrophic climate change as carbon sinks, but are also a means for science to study and understand nature in its own element, something that is becoming a rarity with human encroachment.
Most forests impacted by policies related to timber or biomass harvesting are located in the Carpathian Mountains. They are in fact named Carpathian forests. Climate-related problems in the Carpathian Mountains tend to be localised, but undoubtedly there are issues directly connected to climate change. The outlook is dire, as a World Bank report has shown.
Bioenergy is a source of carbon emissions and drives other undesirable environmental, climate and social impacts such as biodiversity loss. Bioenergy use can also cause an increase of fossil resources in other sectors and displacement of bio-based materials.
The most terrible problem in Romanian mountains lies in intense harvesting that basically amounts to deforestation. Real forest regeneration is increasingly difficult if not impossible.
Local factors in Romania make forest areas particularly vulnerable, due to soil topography and different vegetation.”