New EIEL webinar on conflicts between environmental protection and human rights in regional courts

The EIEL Jean Monnet staff is proud to announce a new EIEL webinar, which will focus on how conflicts between environmental protection and human rights are framed and adjudicated by regional courts. Our guest will be Dr Marie-Catherine Petersmann, Senior Researcher at Tilburg Law School (Tilburg University).

The webinar will take place on 26 January 2023 at 14:30 / 2:30pm CET on the YouTube channel of the EIEL Jean Monnet module. Dr Petersmann will retrace how legal frameworks for environmental protection evolved over time and progressively merged with human rights concerns. She will problematise how this relationship was construed and argue that the conflicts that underpin it mainly remained unseen. More specifically, Dr Petersmann will critically evaluate the argumentative tropes and strategies used in the environmental case-law of regional courts to understand how conflicts between environmental protection and human rights are judicially mediated.

During the event, we will also present Dr Petersmann’s new monograph, “When Environmental Protection and Human Rights Collide: The Politics of Conflict Management by Regional Courts” (Cambridge University Press 2022). The volume has been defined “terrific and essential”, “well-argued and thought-provoking”, with an “original and compelling legal analysis” by reviewers.

Besides her role as a Senior Researcher at Tilburg University’s Law School, Dr Petersmann is currently a Resident Fellow at Istituto Svizzero in Rome for the period 2022-2023. At Tilburg University, she works as part of the ‘Constitutionalizing in the Anthropocene’ project Prior to that, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow (SNF) at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development (Utrecht) and Teaching Associate at the Strathclyde Center for Environmental Law and Governance (Glasgow).

She earned a PhD and LLM in International Law from the European University Institute (Florence) and an MA in International Law from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (Geneva). In 2022, she was awarded a Veni grant from the Dutch NWO for her project on ‘Anthropocene Legalities: Reconfiguring Relations with/in More-than-human Worlds’.

New EIEL webinar on armed conflicts and the environment with Anne Dienelt

The academic staff of the EIEL Jean Monnet module is pleased to announce that on 29 September it will host Dr Anne Dienelt for a new webinar on the protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts. The event will be the first EIEL webinar of the 2022/2023 academic year.

Dr Anne Dienelt works as a senior research fellow and lecturer at the University of Hamburg. She currently researches questions of resilience in terms of law in light of crises, such as climate change or pandemics. During the webinar, which will take place on 29 September 2022 at 15.30 CEST on the YouTube channel of the EIEL Jean Monnet Module, Dr Dienelt will present her recently-published monograph on Armed Conflicts and the Environment – Complementing the Laws of Armed Conflict with Human Rights Law and International Environmental Law (Springer 2022).

More specifically, Dr Dienelt will discuss how the protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts can be enhanced within the existing framework of international law, through the complementary application of three fields of international law, namely the law of armed conflicts, international human rights law, and international environmental law. The webinar will also represent an additional opportunity to discuss the working paper published in January 2022 by EIEL project members Riccardo Pavoni and Dario Piselli, which assesses the history and significance of Principle 24 of the Rio Declaration and calls for the development of a comprehensive multilateral convention on armed conflicts and the environment.

The webinar will be open to all interested participants, and will be available at this link.

New keynote lectures announced: Christine Bakker on international and European climate change law

The academic staff of the EIEL Jean Monnet module is proud to welcome Professor Christine Bakker for two keynote lectures on international and European climate change law, which will be included in the module’s teaching programme for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Prof Christine Bakker, a renowned scholar of international environmental and climate change law, is currently an affiliated researcher at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, Italy, and a visiting research fellow at the British Institute for International and Comparative Law (BIICL) in London, United Kingdom. Both of her lectures will take place in person at the Department of Law of the University of Siena, Italy. The first lecture will take place on 6 May 2022 at 10.45 CEST, and it will focus on the international context of climate change negotiations, with an emphasis on the recent evolution of climate change law from the Paris Agreement to the Glasgow Pact adopted during COP-26. The second lecture, on 9 May 2022 (at 15.45 CEST) will instead discuss the role played by the European Union on the international stage, the main EU instruments and legal acts relating to climate change, and the evolution of climate litigation before European courts.

Christine Bakker holds a PhD in public international law from the European University Institute (EUI), Florence, and her main areas of research are human rights law including children’s rights, international environmental law, and climate change. She has published widely in these fields and has recently co-edited, with Ivano Alogna and Jean-Pierre Gauci, the volume Climate Change Litigation: Global Perspectives (Brill Publ., 2021). She previously worked at the European Commission (DG Development), as a Research Fellow at the EUI in Florence, as an Adjunct Professor at LUISS University, Rome, and as a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Rome-3, and at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa.

New EIEL Working Paper on armed conflicts and the environment

The staff of the Jean Monnet Module in European and International Environmental Law (EIEL) is happy to announce the publication of a new EIEL Working Paper focusing on the topic of armed conflicts and the environment on SSRN‘s eLibrary.

The working paper, which was recently co-authored by EIEL academic coordinator Riccardo Pavoni and EIEL programme manager Dario Piselli, assesses the history and significance of Principle 24 of the Rio Declaration, which in 1992 called upon States to respect international law providing protection for the environment in times of armed conflict and to cooperate in its further development.

In particular, the paper explores how the key elements of the principle have influenced subsequent law- and policy-making processes led by institutions such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN Environment Programme, and the International Law Commission. The paper argues that while Principle 24 does not contain specific normative prescriptions, it has translated over the years into a significant and vibrant international law standard.

However, in the light of the gaps and shortcomings that continue to characterize the protection afforded to the environment under international humanitarian law, the paper emphasizes the need to develop a comprehensive multilateral convention on armed conflict and the environment, with the aim of bringing the vision of Principle 24 into completion.

The paper is available for download at this link.

Calendar of 2021-2022 EIEL core teaching activities announced

With the start of the spring semester approaching, the staff of the Jean Monnet Module in European and International Law (EIEL) is now able to announce the academic calendar for its core teaching activities.

The upcoming start of a new semester at the University of Siena will be marked by a return to full in-person teaching for the EIEL Jean Monnet Module, after a 2020-2021 academic year that was heavily impacted by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. The EIEL Module, now in its second year of implementation, has recently hosted the first webinar of its 2021-2022 series, featuring Dr Riccardo Luporini of the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies for a presentation on human rights-based litigation on climate change.

The core teaching activities of the EIEL Module will start on 28 February, with a series of lectures taught by EIEL Academic Coordinator Prof Riccardo Pavoni as part of the general course in European Union law offered by the Department of Law of the University of Siena, which will run from 28 February to 11 April. On 22 April, after the Easter break, Prof Pavoni will introduce a series of fundamental notions of European environmental law. He will discuss the historical and legal evolution of this field of EU law, as well as its legal basis, objectives, sources, and key principles.

On 29 April and 2 May, Prof Elisa Morgera (Director of the One Ocean Hub and Professor of Global Environmental Law at the University of Strathclyde) will dedicate two lectures to the origins and main features of international environmental law. On 6 and 9 May, the module will then feature two consecutive keynote lectures by Prof Christine Bakker (Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies), who is involved for the first time in the project, on EU law and climate change. Lastly, on 13 and 16 May, Dr Dario Piselli will conclude the course with two lectures exploring the most recent normative developments in the European regulation of biodiversity and chemicals.

In due course, additional webinars and dissemination activities may also be announced by the EIEL staff, in order to complement the teaching activities of the module.

New EIEL Webinar: Riccardo Luporini to Discuss Human Rights-based Climate Litigation

Photo credit: Michael Adams, Gardi Sugdub, Panama, 2019 (Creative Commons Licence CC BY-NC 2.0)

We are proud to announce the next EIEL webinar of the 2021/2022 academic year, which will take place on 20 January 2022 at 15.00 CET. For the lecture, which will be live-streamed online through YouTube Live, we will welcome Dr Riccardo Luporini, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in International Law at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, Italy.

Dr Luporini’s presentation will explore the growing phenomenon of human rights-based climate change litigation. The relationship between human rights and climate change is today widely recognised by civil society, states and international organisations – and litigants around the world are increasingly putting forward human rights arguments before different judicial and quasi-judicial bodies with the aim of filling the existing accountability gap in climate change law. In the webinar, Dr Luporini will try to offer a typology of this assorted set of complaints, discussing examples of failed, successful and pending cases while devoting special attention to the first Italian climate case (A Sud et al v Italy, also known as “Giudizio universale”). In addition, he will analyse the specific legal hurdles and most controversial points raised by human rights-based climate change litigation, as well as the possible future developments in this field.

Dr Luporini obtained his PhD from the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna with a dissertation concerning the relationships between climate change, disasters and human rights under international law. He has been Visiting PhD Fellow at the Centre for International Law and Governance, University of Copenhagen. In addition, he has served as assistant to the Special Rapporteur on the topic “Protection of persons in the event of disasters” at the 68th session of the UN International Law Commission and as blue book trainee at the European Commission Directorate-General for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.

The webinar will be open to all interested participants, and will be available at this link.

University of Siena to host the 30th Anniversary Workshop of the Italian Yearbook of International Law

Cover photo: Alexandria. Creator: zbruch | Credit: Getty Images | Copyright: zbruch

The academic staff of the Jean Monnet Module in European and International Environmental Law (EIEL) is proud to announce that it will co-organise IYIL@30, the 30th Anniversary Workshop of the Italian Yearbook of International Law. Originally founded in 1975, the Yearbook is one of the leading sources of Italian scholarship and practice in the field of international law, which it aims to disseminate among non-Italian speaking scholars and practitioners. Its latest volume has just been published, and is available online (for those with a subscription) at this link.

The IYIL@30 workshop, which will be hosted at the Department of Law of the University of Siena on 29-30 November 2021, will take place both in person and online. Each of the two days will be dedicated to one overarching topic. On 29 November, the participants will explore the theme The Mediterranean Sea and International Law, with a series of presentations addressing issues of maritime delimitation, maritime security, protection of underwater cultural heritage, criminal activities at sea, and conservation of biological diversity. On 30 November, the workshop will instead discuss the theme Cities and International Law. The contributions will focus on a broad range of key research questions, from the shifting status of cities in international law to the interface between cities and international normative frameworks in the areas of human rights, sustainable development, protection of cultural heritage, and climate change. For a full list of speakers, the PDF leaflet of the workshop is available here for download.

For those interested in attending in person, it is necessary to register by sending an email to For those joining online, the event will be live-streamed here (on 29 November) and here (on 30 November).

New EIEL Guest Lecture: Sabrina Brizioli on Greening Agri-Food Systems Through Codes of Conduct and Environmental Product Declarations

We are proud to announce the first EIEL guest lecture of the 2021/2022 academic year, which will take place on 15 September 2021 at 14.00 CEST. For the lecture, which will be live-streamed online through YouTube Live, we will welcome Dr Sabrina Brizioli, Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Department of Law of the University of Perugia, Italy.

Her lecture will explore the role of Environmental Codes of Conduct and Environmental Product Declarations, which are increasingly used in the agri-food sector to enhance both business-to-business and business-to-consumer communication, and whose aim is to record the environmental impacts and performance of products, in achieving the objective of sustainable agri-food systems in both the European Union and at the international level.

The lecture will follow the perspective of some relevant international and EU environmental instruments, i.e. the Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals, the European Green Deal and its “From Farm to Fork” strategy, the Common Agricultural Policy and its eco-schemes. Moreover, it will scrutinise the commitment of local and regional entities to develop sustainable food policies and renew their strategies in order to put the food and farming at the heart of environmental matters and health emergencies as recently highlighted by the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration and the preparatory documents for COP26.

Dr Brizioli will articulate international environmental law issues into a regional dimension and discuss whether the improvement of sustainability of food processing, as requested by the global response to climate and biodiversity emergency, could effectively reduce the environmental footprint of agri-food systems, drive positive changes and ensure resilience to shocks at local and rural levels. Such an approach underlines that actions should be aligned vertically (between different levels of governance) and horizontally (across economic sectors and stakeholders) to accelerate an integrated/just transition to sustainable food systems.

Sabrizina Brizioli holds a Ph.D (cum laude) in Legal Sciences (2020) and a five-year law degree (cum laude-2012) from the Università degli Studi di Perugia where she is cultore della materia (expert in the field) in International Law, Advanced International Law and EU Law. She is also a qualified lawyer and expert in Legal Professions (“Scuola di Specializzazione L.Migliorini” Diploma – Università degli Studi di Perugia).

She is a member of the Scientific Board for Europe of the Review Diritto e Processo, Rights & Remedies-Derecho Y Proceso and she coordinates the Focus: Environmental Law and Policy. She has recently been selected for a Visiting Research Fellowship at the Historical Archives of the European Union, which are housed at the European University Institute (Florence). Sabrina’s research interests lie in international environmental law, climate change law, environmental justice and food law.

The lecture will be open to all interested participants, and will be available at this link.

New EIEL Guest Lecture announced: Maria Cristina Carta on the European Green Deal

We are proud to announce the first guest lecture of the EIEL Jean Monnet Module in the 2020/2021 academic year. On 3 May 2021, starting at 3pm CEST, we will welcome Dr Maria Cristina Carta, Research Fellow in European Union Law at the Department of Law of the University of Sassari.

Her lecture, which will take place online in the light of the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions affecting the University of Siena, will examine the legal aspects of the European Green Deal, the new EU’s growth strategy presented by the Commission in December 2019 aimed at achieving climate neutrality by 2050 through a better coordination of environmental, economic and social policies. Dr Carta will devote special attention to the sectors of intervention, the financial instruments and the social perspectives of this strategy, with particular reference to the recent proposal for a European climate law and to the Just Transition Mechanism. Moreover, she will discuss whether or not the Deal constitutes a useful tool to achieve full recognition of the right to a healthy environment in the EU.

At the University of Sassarsi, Carta currently teaches International and EU law and Protection of Human Rights in the European Union. She has been a visiting research fellow at several European institutions and universities, and is a member of a number of international research groups in the areas of international and European law and human rights. In addition to several peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, she published her first monograph in 2018 (Dalla Libertà di Circolazione alla Coesione Territoriale nell’Unione Europea, Jovene Ed.)

All EIEL keynote and guest lectures are usually held in Italian and hosted by the Department of Law of the University of Siena, where they are open to the public but also constitute a part of the EIEL module’s teaching programme. Until COVID-19 restrictions on live events are lifted, EIEL keynote and guest lectures take place online. Unlike EIEL webinars, which are broadcasted directly on YouTube Live, lectures take place in a Google Meet’s virtual classroom, and require registration.

To register for this lecture, visit the following Eventbrite link.

Leave the dead (trees) alone? Revisiting the ongoing controversy over the Białowieża forest

Cover photo credits: Bialowieża National Park. Mariusz Cieszewski 2019.

In March 2021, the Polish government announced an update of the logging quotas contained in the management plan for the Białowieża forest in eastern Poland, parts of which are variably protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a Natura 2000 site, and a national park by virtue of the area hosting one of the last primeval lowland forests in the European continent, as well as Europe’s largest free-roaming population of the European bison (Bison bonasus).

While popular with some economic sectors and the government, logging in and around the Białowieża national park has been hugely controversial in recent years, particularly as the area has benefited from a growing influx of tourists and researchers which is threatened by the expansion of forestry activities. In 2016, despite increasing local and international pressure, the Ministry of the Environment of Poland adopted an Appendix to its 2012-2021 forest management plan for the three districts of Białowieża, Browsk and Hajnówka, tripling the harvesting volume authorised in the Białowieża district. At the same time, a decision by the State Forest Office (so-called Decision No 51) urgently requested the competent local authorities to begin logging operations in all three districts to protect public safety from the risk of falling trees and ensure the ecological integrity of the site, in the light of an “extraordinary and catastrophic situation caused by the spread of the spruce bark beetle.”

The rationale underpinning the Appendix and the Decision was immediately disputed by some experts, advocacy groups and the European Commission, especially since the new harvesting volume had been raised precisely as the original quotas set in the 2012-2021 plan had nearly been exhausted (within just four years). Moreover, the fact itself that the Białowieża ecosystem relies on the presence of large amount of dead wood and decaying trees, which provide a key habitat to several species of insects and birds, suggested that a spruce bark beetle outbreak should not have been considered a risk to the integrity of the primeval areas of the forest, but rather as a critical part of their natural cycle. 

Following the opening of an infringement procedure against the country, and an unfruitful pre-litigation procedure, the Commission brought an action before the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU). In 2018, the Court held that by increasing logging quotas in the Białowieża district, the 2016 Appendix and Decision No 51 had violated several articles of the Habitats and Birds Directives, which form the core of the EU’s nature conservation legislation. More specifically, the ruling (Commission v Poland, C-441/17) found that Poland had infringed Art.6(3) of the Habitats Directive, by failing to appropriately ascertain whether the logging operations resulting from the 2016 Appendix would negatively affect the ecological integrity of the Natura 2000 site ‘Puszcza Białowieska’. Secondly, the Court found that Poland had violated Art.6(1) of the Habitats Directive and Art.4(1)-(2) of the Birds Directive, by failing to implement the conservation measures that are required to protect the habitat types and species covered by those instruments. In particular, not only did the Court recognize that the 2016 Appendix could not constitute a form of implementation of the conservation measures that had been established by a 2015 management plan adopted by the regional authorities, it also made clear that the Appendix had made that plan fundamentally redundant. Thirdly, the CJEU held that Poland had infringed Art. 12(1)(a) and (d) of the Habitats Directive, because the authorised active forest management operations had resulted in the deterioration or destruction of breeding sites or resting places of several species of beetles protected under Annex IV(a) to that directive. Finally, Poland was found in breach of Art. 5(b) and (d) of the Birds Directive, in that the removal of dead or dying trees, as well as of old trees colonised by the spruce bark beetle, had violated the country’s obligation to ensure a general system of protection of bird species (in this case, the pygmy owl, the boreal owl, the white-backed woodpecker and the three-toed woodpecker). According to the breached provisions, this system should have included a prohibition on the deliberate destruction of, or damage to, the nests and eggs of protected birds, the removal of their nests, as well as their deliberate disturbance – all actions that had in fact been a likely result of the logging operations.

Unfortunately, details about the new announcement are still scant in international media, thus preventing a more detailed analysis of its relationship with the 2015 management plan, the Birds and Habitats Directives, and the CJEU ruling. However, on the basis of certain statements attributed to the Polish Ministry of Climate and Environment, it is already possible to see how the updated logging quotas might also run afoul of the complaints raised by the European Commission and endorsed by the CJEU with respect to the 2016 Appendix and Decision No 51.

In short, it seems that the plan, which essentially replaces the 2016 Appendix and adopts two new Appendices for the Białowieża and Browsk districts, tries to find a way around the CJEU ruling by, among other things, reducing the volume of wood planned to be harvested by 60 percent, excluding areas of forest that are over 100 years old from active forest management operations, postponing the start of logging activities until the wild bird breeding season has ended, and framing half of those activities as part of an ecological restoration scheme. In Polish media, the announcement has indeed been portrayed as proof that the national government is implementing that ruling in earnest – with added emphasis on the fact that the European Commission has allegedly not raised objections to the new plans as they relate to the Białowieża and Browsk districts (it apparently has with respect to the Hajnówka district, which is why a third Appendix has not been adopted for the latter yet).

At the outset, it should be noted that the timing of the announcement is problematic for a number of reasons. The new Appendices were adopted just a few weeks after the Commission had sent a formal letter of notice to the Polish authorities, arguing that the 2018 ruling has largely not been implemented and that “actions envisaged by Poland are not in line with the Directives nor with the Court ruling.” Moreover, the 2012-2021 forest management plan for the Białowieża forest is expected to expire anyway at the end of this year, and it has not been replaced yet (according to the Ministry of Climate and Environment, it is unclear if a 2022-2031 plan will be ready by then). In other words, it may be the case that the new Appendices are simply an attempt to buy some time and authorise logging activities for a few extra months, evading further proceedings before the CJEU for possible financial sanctions under Art. 260 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.

In any event, the statements used to justify the updated logging quotas also appear very weak if compared with the findings of the 2018 ruling. Revisiting such findings may thus be important to understand the current situation of stalemate and prepare for potential new developments, particularly if the European Commission takes issue with the recent Appendices and decides not to close its infringement procedure against Poland.

The press conference during which the new Appendices to the 2012-2021 forest management plan were announced by the Polish authorities. Cover photo credit: Government of Poland.

First of all, the claim of a 60 percent reduction in the volume of wood planned to be harvested, compared with the 2016 Appendix, clashes with the aforementioned consideration that the original quotas for the Białowieża district for the period 2012-2021 had already been exhausted by 2016, and that extensive logging continued until the 2018 ruling. Consistent with the Court’s reasoning with respect to the 2016 Appendix, any expansion of those quotas through the forest management plan must be considered as a ‘plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site’ under the Habitats Directive (paras 122-127 of the CJEU judgment), and therefore needs to be evaluated against the conditions set by Art. 6(3) of that Directive, which requires an appropriate assessment to be carried out in order to ascertain that the activities will not ‘adversely affect the integrity of the site’. This is all the more important because in 2018 the CJEU found that no such assessment had been conducted for the Browsk and Hajnówka districts, and that the one conducted for the Białowieża presented a series of substantial lacunae. The Polish authorities have claimed that the adoption of the new Appendices indeed meets the requirements of Art. 6(3), in that new impact assessments and even stakeholder consultations have been carried out – however it is unclear whether these documents (and the Appendices themselves) have been publicly shared at this stage.

Secondly, the CJEU ruling noted that the 2015 management plan does not consider the felling of pines and spruces that are over a century old as the sole threat to the integrity of the Natura 2000 site. Other types of active forest management operations, including the removal of other species of dead or dying trees, are also mentioned in that plan as potential threats to the protected habitats and species of Białowieża (paragraphs 166-168 of that ruling). This means that even if logging activities did indeed exclude areas of the forest in which at least 10 percent of tree specimens are over 100 years old, this by itself would not make such activities compliant with the conservation measures set in the 2015 management plan (and, by extension, with Art. 6(1) of the Habitats Directive and Art. 4 of the Birds Directive). Now, it is true that the Polish government has framed most of the new interventions as necessary to improve the conservation status of the Natura 2000 site (this time including ecological restoration efforts aimed at replacing coniferous species with deciduous species), but it is equally true that this same argument was also used (and rejected) during the procedure before the CJEU.

Third, the position that logging will not violate EU law because felling will not start during breeding season of wild birds has two main flaws. On the one hand, it is immaterial to Poland’s obligation to take positive measures to protect bird habitats under Art. 4 of the Birds Directive, which does not merely impose the avoidance of external anthropogenic interference or disturbance but also requires a duty to preserve or improve the state of these sites. Incidentally, this point was also touched upon in the CJEU ruling (paras 215-218), which recognised that the conservation measures adopted in the 2015 management plan had never been applied, and they had been in fact rendered meaningless by the same logging operations that are being once again proposed through the new announcement. On the other hand, the decision to postpone felling remains contrary to the formulation of both Art. 4(2) and Art. 5(b) and (d) of the Birds Directive: these obligations – more specifically, the obligation to take special conservation measures to protect breeding areas of migratory species, the obligation to prohibit the deliberate destruction or damage of nests of all species of birds, and the obligation to prohibit the deliberate disturbance of birds – do not only apply to the breeding season of protected wild birds. This point was also reiterated by the CJEU in its 2018 ruling, which recalled a 1988 judgment in which the Court had stated that to suspend protection “throughout a particular period of the year cannot be considered […] compatible” with Art.5 of the Birds Directive (Commission v France, C-252/85, para 9).

Lastly, the use of the spruce bark beetle infestation as a justification for logging operations, together with the argument that the removal of dead or dying trees is necessary to protect public safety along forest paths, already lay at the core of the 2018 ruling. There, both justifications were repeatedly dismissed by the CJEU. According to the Court, the 2016 Appendix and Decision No 51 had not provided any specific conditions under which logging would be justified on grounds of public safety, and had actually authorised the removal of all species of trees, not only those colonised by the spruce bark beetle (paras 160-163). Perhaps most importantly, the Court also noted that until the adoption of the 2016 Appendix, the beetle outbreak had never been flagged as a threat to the integrity of the Natura 2000 site, including in the 2015 management plan – which had instead considered forest management operations as an expression of such a threat (para 173). To these two justifications, the Polish government has now added the need to reduce the fire risk posed by the accumulation of dead (dry) wood in the forest  – an issue that was already mentioned in the 2016 Appendix but not addressed in the CJEU ruling. Increased fire risk due to climate change has indeed been flagged as a potential future threat to Białowieża in the most recent IUCN World Heritage Outlook. However, at present the risk is considered relatively low. In addition, some of the studies cited in the Outlook have actually pointed to anthropogenic changes in hydrology, as well to the logging activities themselves, as contributing factors to fire hazard.

By means of conclusion, the recent announcement seemingly represents the new chapter of a decade-long effort by the Polish government to muddle the waters and avoid international scrutiny over the conservation of the invaluable ecosystem of Białowieża, rather than a serious attempt at resolving the dispute with the European institutions. Now, is such a stance worth it? While some of the cultural and socio-economic motivations for continuing to exploit the forest have been discussed in the past, some researchers have also pointed out that the revenues from birdwatching and other forms of tourism by now eclipse the unprofitable forestry sector. Similarly, it has been emphasised that the dependence of local communities on the ecosystem services offered by the Białowieża forest is vast and goes beyond timber extraction, which is often distributed outside the region anyway, as well as the provision of firewood for fuel, which is only important because (and as long as) the area remains one of the least developed in the EU. As a matter of fact, such dependence may well include a strong regulating function on air quality, local climate, and water; the support provided to ecosystem processes and biodiversity conservation; a range of cultural services and opportunities for recreation; and a significant provision of locally-consumed goods such as mushrooms, berries, game, and herbs. As hinted at by the European Commission in its recent letter of notice to the Polish authorities, there is ample scope to put this array of ecosystem services at the centre of the sustainable development of the region and of the implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy in Poland. It is unclear how a continued confrontation over logging in Białowieża helps this cause, and local communities as a result.

Dario Piselli is the Programme Manager of the Jean Monnet Module in European and International Environmental Law. He is a Ph.D. candidate in International Law at the Graduate Institute of Geneva (IHEID), an affiliated researcher at its Centre for International Environmental Studies, and an independent sustainability consultant.