Pirin World Heritage Site Suffers Irreversible Damage From Ski Resort Construction
Pirin National Park, one of Europe's most important biodiversity hotspots, has suffered irreparable damage from the construction and expansion of Bansko ski resort, reveals a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report published Monday. The analysis found that the ski resort, approved by Bulgaria's government in 2000, has also compromised Pirin's long-term economic value and delivered a mixed economic impact to date.
Amendments made to Pirin's current management plan by Bulgaria's government in December have now opened up to 48 percent of the park to construction activities. A new draft management plan, currently under dispute in court, would allow construction of ski infrastructure in an area 12.5 times bigger than the current area and logging in 60 percent of the national park.
The report forcefully shows that these plans would cause irreversible damage to the World Heritage site and are based on a questionable business case.
"Ski development in pursuit of short-term gains has already taken a shocking toll on Pirin," said Veselina Kavrakova, WWF-Bulgaria country head. "This report brings its damaging impact on both nature and Pirin's long-term economic value into sharp focus. Bulgaria's government cannot simply press on with plans to allow the ski area to increase 12-fold. It must instead listen to its citizens who are calling for Pirin to be protected.
"Sustainable economic development can better capture the long-term potential of the park and extend the tourism offering beyond skiing by developing year-round activities to attract more visitors outside the winter months."
A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983, Pirin is Europe's best preserved home for iconic species such as the brown bears, grey wolves and the lesser spotted eagle. The changes to its current management plan were pushed through by Bulgaria's government on Dec. 28 after WWF and a coalition of NGOs filed a lawsuit against the government's proposed new management plan. This surreptitious move has sparked weekly street protests in more than 20 cities in Bulgaria and dozens more around the world.
WWF's report, "Slippery Slopes: Protecting Pirin from Unsustainable Ski Expansion and Logging," highlights that, when building the current ski zones, the concessionaire constructed ski facilities on 60 percent more national park territory than contracted. This construction caused irreversible damage to the national park. As a result, two areas lost the status of World Heritage Site and were labelled as "buffer zones."
The provisions in the draft management plan now pose a potential further threat to Pirin's important ecosystems. Ski infrastructure construction and widespread logging would seriously threaten the park's wildlife by destroying, reducing and fragmenting natural habitats. The expansion would take place in some of the most pristine and valuable areas within the park, and would require cutting down old Macedonian and Bosnian pine trees. It is estimated that more than 3,000 hectares of forest would need to be felled to facilitate the planned expansion of ski areas.
The report also finds that the assumptions underlying the economic case for ski expansion are weak. The ski zones are shown to have had mixed economic impact on the local economy to date, as demonstrated by increased unemployment, population reduction and drastic decrease of property value. Bansko is also not maximizing the potential of its existing facilities. Furthermore, climate change effects are expected to affect snow conditions, increasing dependency on artificial snow and inflating the cost of operating the ski resort as well as pressure on local water supplies.
WWF's report instead provides a roadmap for developing Pirin sustainably. This vision focuses on year-round sustainable tourism and an income diversification strategy for the area. Looking ahead, developments in the park's municipalities should be guided by a national strategy for sustainable winter and summer tourism. The report also features alternatives and business opportunities for Pirin outside the ski season.
"Rather than pursue harmful ski developments, Bulgaria's government should use Pirin's natural value to grow the local economy in a way that doesn't irreversibly damage this incredible national park," said Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International. "We are calling on all parties to come together and embrace a future that preserves Pirin for future generations to enjoy."
If successful, Pirin could serve as a blueprint for sustainable management of mountain ecosystems in Bulgaria and beyond, and its nature would be protected for current and future generations, the report says. Otherwise, Pirin could be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger as a consequence of the irreversible damage to its outstanding universal value.
By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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