European NGOs have today announced legal action seeking to block forest bioenergy and other forestry projects from the Sustainable Finance Taxonomy, calling their inclusion ‘unlawful’.
The Taxonomy, which has been criticised for including nuclear and natural gas as sustainable investments, also includes projects that accelerate logging and burning forest wood despite their substantial impact on ecosystems and the climate, the groups said.
As a result, seven NGOs, along with legal support, have filed an annulment action arguing that the qualifying criteria for forestry and bioenergy projects violate basic legal obligations under primary EU law as well as key obligations under the Taxonomy Regulation because they are not based in scientific evidence, they fail to mitigate climate change, and they cause significant harm to the environment.
A further 50 NGOs have signed an open letter to the European Commission declaring their support.
“The European Commission has failed to provide any scientific basis for the forest and bioenergy criteria, putting forests and the climate at risk,” said Elsie Blackshaw-Crosby, managing lawyer at the Lifescape Project, which provided legal support for the case.
“The Taxonomy criteria are not simply wrong, they are unlawful, and we are asking the court to strike them down.”
The annulment action follows a February 2022 Request for Review by the NGOs, which requested the European Commission reconsider and revise its criteria for forest biomass and forestry projects. The European Commission declined the opportunity to review, prompting the filing of the legal case.
Clementine Baldon, partner at French law firm Baldon Avocats, which convened the legal challenge, said: “By classifying polluting and destructive activities as sustainable, the Commission is directing so-called ‘sustainable investment’ towards activities causing immense environmental harm.
“We are therefore asking the Court to annul the Commission’s refusal to review its decision to label these activities as sustainable.”
Augustyn Mikos, forest campaigns coordinator at participating NGO Association Workshop for All Beings, added: “Investments that ultimately support burning trees are not green and should not be labelled as green.
“In Poland we have seen a 150-fold increase in the use of woody biomass for energy production in the last 15 years. Further incentives to support these activities pose a great threat to our forests, air quality and climate.”
The participating NGOs are Save Estonia’s Forests, Robin Wood, Clean Air Committee, Workshop for All Beings, Zero, 2Celsius and Protest the Forest. ClientEarth is also filing a similar case challenging the Taxonomy’s bioenergy criteria and one challenging its organic chemicals criteria.
This comes a day after five civil society groups with members sitting with the EU Platform on Sustainable Finance resigned from their posts as they criticised the European Commission for “interfering politically” and “repeatedly ignoring the recommendations of its expert group”.