SOS for nature treasure in Bulgaria

Sofia – The Bulgarian government ignored the wish of 76,000 citizens already speaking up for the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site in Bulgaria, and gave the green light to the destructive management plan for Pirin National Park. The decision ignores national law and UNESCO’s Committee recommendations.

 The caretaker Minister of Environment and Water made a serious step towards allowing construction in Pirin that would jeopardize the wildlife in the region. The Minister issued a decision stating that the draft management plan does not require an environmental assessment which WWF and local organizations consider extremely threatening for Pirin. This decision is in contradiction with the Bulgarian environmental laws and deprive citizens of the opportunity to express their position, as the act was issued with an extremely short period of court appealing.

 In the issued act, the Ministry claims that the new management plan will not have a significant negative impact on the environment and human health thus ecology assessments are not needed. The draft plan will allow construction on 12.5-times bigger territory compared to the current area and could lead to commercial logging affecting nearly 60 per cent of the park.


Green laws are good for EU economies

On February 3rd, the European Commission published its environmental law review, highlighting the importance of full implementation for healthy and sustainable economic development.

According to the report:

“The EU's environmental policy and legislation bring undeniable benefits: they protect, preserve and improve the environment for present and future generations, and preserve the quality of life of EU citizens. Weak implementation generates high societal, economic and environmental costs and it creates an uneven playing field for businesses. The importance of the correct implementation of the EU's environmental acquis is also reflected in the Seventh Environmental Action Programme.”


Bulgarian government settles illegal buildings on protected mountain

In a draft amendment of the concession contract for Bansko Ski Zone in UNESCO’s Pirin National Park, on 19 February Bulgaria's Development Council called the Council of Ministers to legalize the violations of the concessionaire, ULEN AD. 

The amendment would basically allow a tenfold increase in the concession area -- from ​​99 ha to 1,069 ha. This would legalize massive illegal constructions on a territory 60% bigger than the current concession, as well as allow construction on further territories of the national park.  

UNESCO nature parks in Bulgaria threatened by excessive development

Three of Bulgaria’s most significant natural treasures, the parks of Pirin, Rila and Vitosha, are on the verge of opening up to excessive construction development: the draft management plans placed in public consultation in October 2015 allow construction, logging and hunting in zones that are presently protected by law.

According to a coalition of environmental groups, the draft plans have not been subjected to the scrutiny of an environmental impact assessment, quote obsolete legislation, and are based on problematic data. The main pressure for excessive construction development in these protected mountains are investment plans for the expansion of ski resorts and other mountainous intensive tourism activities.

According to WWF: “Pirin National Park was declared a World Heritage site in 1983. In 2010, UNESCO excluded the ski areas above Bansko and Dobrinishte from the World Heritage list because it found their nature irrevocably damaged and urbanized by ski development.

In July 2015, the Bulgarian ministries of tourism and sports asked UNESCO to exclude an additional 10% of the park from the World Heritage list in order to allow for further ski development. In his response, the Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre Mr Kishore Rao said that Bulgaria can develop tourism anywhere outside the UNESCO site. He also called the new draft management plan for Pirin unacceptable: it included no adequate environmental assessments and lacked crucial data.

The ministries of tourism and sports have long lobbied for the expansion of the Bansko ski zone to other parts of Pirin National Park. At the moment, this is still prohibited by the Protected Areas Act and the park’s current management plan.

The draft plan for Pirin was developed by a company that also developed the plan for Vitosha Nature Park. The company envisions increasing the area of construction over 120 times -- from 219 hectares to 26,558 hectares. This is 65% of the park’s territory.

In July 2015, the coalition of NGOs and civil organizations "For the Nature in Bulgaria" that WWF belongs to, as well as dozens of other NGOs, experts and citizens, publicly denounced the draft plan.”

Read more: WWF


Commission recommends path to greener tax policies

Fixed in its original orientation towards economic growth, the Commission called on member states to promote greener tax policies through its European Semester cycle of economic policy coordination: “Environmental taxes remain underdeveloped in many Member States and their revenues in percentage of GDP declined during the period 1999-2008, despite efforts to move to a greener society. Revenues have however increased in 2009 2010 and 2011. There is potential to raise revenue through tax increases as well as through reducing tax expenditure in environmental taxation. 

Generally, environmentally-friendly taxation would also greatly benefit from the adoption by Member States of the revised Energy Taxation Directive (ETD), which aims to restructure the way in which energy is taxed to support the objective of moving to a low-carbon and energy-efficient economy, and to avoid problems for the Internal Market.



Bulgarian green groups opposing ski resort receive threat calls

Threat calls from persons associating themselves with plans for further developments at the ski resort of Bansko (Pirin National Park) have been addressed to members of the  environmental coalition "For Nature in Bulgaria", of which WWF is a founding NGO.

The coalition reported to the General Prosecutor's office that certain of its members received threatening telephone calls warning them to “take adequate, personal measures", with a request to identify the press charges under the Criminal Law. 


Photo: © Petko Tsvetkov

The coalition "For Nature in Bulgaria" has asked the authorities for a rapid and complete investigation of the case. The systematic harassment of certain members of several environmental NGOs started a few months ago by a person who gave his full name and position, both clearly associated with the ski resort at Bansko, located in the Pirin National Park. This week, the government was expected to decide whether the ski zone was built in accordance with the concession contract permits. Previously, the Minister of Environment had stated that the ski zone occupies around 60% more area than the one specified in the concession. 





Thousands protest against plans to destroy Bulgaria's largest natural treasure

In the streets of many Bulgarian cities, large protests demand the protection of Bulgaria's Strandzha Nature Park. In the web, thousands have signed a petition for the same purpose. Conservation organisations, such as WWF, are determined to save this unique natural treasure. Having joined forces under the coalition "For the Nature", conservationists call on the Bulgarian Parliament and Government to pass urgent legislative changes that will to save the country's largest protected area.


Editorial by Andreas Beckmann

Vienna, February 2013 - Environmental legislation and safeguards are being rolled back in Spain, Greece and other countries, under the pressure, or excuse, of financial and economic crisis. One might think that the same would be happening in the EU’s newest and poorest member states, Bulgaria and Romania.
But in fact, the application of environmental safeguards and legislation has actually improved over the past couple of years and has been more in the focus of attention of the public and politicians.


Despite crisis, Europeans agree more funding is needed for biodiversity

A recent Flash Eurobarometer survey on the “Attitudes towards biodiversity” may offer a clear message that the majority of EU citizens do not favour measures that undermine the conservation of Europe’s natural treasury.

According to the Flash Eurobarometer 379, which was published earlier in November, “[r]oughly  three  quarters  of  Europeans  totally  agree  that  the  EU  should  better  inform citizens about the importance of biodiversity (72%).  Approximately  two  thirds  of  Europeans  totally  agree  that  the  EU  should  increase  the areas where nature is protected in Europe (65%). 

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