March 28, 2018 / 5:28 PM / 25 days ago

Poland says it should decide future of forest at center of EU dispute

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland should decide how it manages one of Europe’s last ancient forests in the years ahead, not the EU’s top court, environment minister Henryk Kowalczyk said, setting up a possible confrontation in one of a series of disputes with Brussels.

The European Court of Justice is due to rule in April on an EU complaint that Warsaw’s decision in 2016 to allow more commercial logging in Bialowieza Forest broke the bloc’s laws.

Greenpeace and other campaign groups have said the logging allowed by Warsaw is threatening the UNESCO world heritage site and its populations of European bison, lynx and rare birds.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party - already at odds with Brussels over judicial reforms - has said it has the right to manage its own resources and the logging is needed to control a beetle infestation.

Kowalczyk told Reuters he expected the court ruling would focus only on how Poland, the EU’s biggest eastern member, had managed the forest up to now.

The court “will not, however, indicate precisely future methods to protect (the forest), because it would be a transgression beyond its competence,” told Reuters in an interview.

If the court made any specific recommendations about the forest’s future management, particularly if it banned any logging, then the government would have to discuss it, he added.

Warsaw wanted to draw up its own protection plan for the forest, he said. “I expect that it will be a compromise between active and passive protection,” he added, without spelling out how many trees would be removed under an “active” scheme.

An adviser to the EU court said in February that Poland’s decision to increase logging in the forest did break EU law. While judges are not obliged to follow the adviser’s recommendation, they do so in most cases.

CLIMATE BALANCE

Separately, Kowalczyk said he was seeing some support in Europe and beyond for plans, backed by Warsaw, to let nations balance out their carbon dioxide emissions with absorption of greenhouse gases by forests.

    The plan would be discussed, he said, at U.N. climate talks that Poland will host in December in its southern city of Katowice - the center of the coal-producing Silesia region.

    “The issue of absorbing emissions has its opponents, which is why we realize that these talks will not be easy. We will discuss this - first within the European Union,” Kowalczyk said.

    Many countries want to focus more on cuts in emissions, reckoning the idea of absorption is a sideshow favored by coal-dependent states such as Poland.

    Kowalczyk said he had received a “clear declaration” from China’s special representative on climate change that Beijing was interested in the scheme.

    The minister reiterated that Poland wanted to reduce the share of coal in its electricity production to around 50 percent by 2050 from around 80 percent now.

    “We will be moving slowly from coal to other sources, but it is important that it is not too abrupt,” he added.

Editing by Andrew Heavens

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