WWF, BUND and Deutscher Naturschutzring Call for a Stop to the Planning for the Danube-Oder-Elbe Canal

The canal would mean the end of these last large and still relatively near-natural river and floodplain landscapes.

2020 August 27 – The planned Danube-Oder-Elbe Canal has met with massive criticism from WWF, BUND (Friends of the Earth-Germany) and Deutscher Naturschutzring (DNR, German League for Nature and Environment). They fear catastrophic ecological consequences for river landscapes such as those of the Elbe and Odra, should the project be implemented. Therefore, they demand an immediate stop to the planned mega-project in Poland and the Czech Republic. Eighteen environmental organisations from five countries already sent a letter to the Brussels Commissioners for Environment and Transport in March this year warning of the destructive effects of the construction of the Danube-Oder-Elbe Canal planned by the Polish and Czech Governments. Germany and Austria would also be affected.

The purpose of the Danube-Odra-Elbe Canal is to create a further navigable connection from the Black Sea to the North and Baltic Seas. Several hundred kilometres of artificial waterways would have to be built to achieve this. In order to hoist cargo ships over a low mountain range and overcome up to 250 meters in altitude, the construction of around 70 barrages would be necessary. Due to the long periods of low water, the Oder and Elbe would have to be completely canalised with dozens of additional barrages. According to initial estimates in an unpublished Czech study, the costs would amount to around 23.5 billion euros.

This would mean the end of these last large and still relatively near-natural river and floodplain landscapes.

The Main-Danube Canal already provides a navigable connection between the Black Sea and the North Sea. Also, the Baltic-Adriatic and the Orient-East Med TEN-T Railway corridors work efficiently. Investments should rather be made in the already existing and functioning infrastructure than in new waterways. We see great opportunities in developing environmentally sound transport within the European TEN-T framework and associated coordination of the trans-European transport networks. European regions can be linked effectively across national borders, contributing to traffic avoidance and minimising greenhouse gas emissions.

According to a response to this letter from EU Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean, the EU Commission will critically examine Member State proposals for major infrastructure projects. The environmental NGOs are now calling on the German Government to establish strict ecological standards for infrastructure development during Germany’s EU Council Presidency.

According to Commissioner Vălean:

  • The EU does not intend to make any significant changes during the review of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T);
  • Should the Polish or Czech Government propose sections of the canal project, in particular the Odra for TEN-T, the EU Commission will carefully examine them; and
  • The Commission is aware that compensation for the loss of habitats is often not possible.

The Odra along the German-Polish border was explicitly mentioned by Commissioner Vălean. The river is already threatened with expansion driven by the Polish Government. The environmental and nature conservation associations are considering legal action against this project. The expansion of the Odra would not only have dramatic effects on the river and its floodplain landscapes, but would also be of little use to inland navigation since the water level would be insufficient for transporting goods. Under no circumstances must the Odra become part of the TEN-T, otherwise the EU is likely to finance the senseless destruction of nature.

A further waterway development called E40 would destroy 2000 kilometres to connect the North Sea to the Black Sea via the Vistula, Bug, Pina, Pripyat and Dnieper Rivers with disastrous consequences for Poland, Belarus and Ukraine.

The environmental organisations say that the German Government must take responsibility to set the course so that the gigantic EU infrastructure package conforms to environmental legislation.

“The fact that the EU’s transport planning is not to be extended for larger projects is good news for nature conservation, and especially for rivers. Waterway expansion projects such as the Danube-Oder-Elbe Canal or the E40 project in Poland have a dubious traffic benefit, but would destroy many valuable habitats and mean the end for rare animals and plants.” – Olaf Bandt, Chairman of BUND

The EU’s response is generally viewed rather positively by environmental organisations. However, planning waterway projects often takes decades or even centuries. For example, initial ideas for the Danube-Odra-Elbe Canal are 300 years old.

“We do not have a traffic crisis, but above all a climate and biodiversity crisis. Therefore, we call on the German Government to establish a procedure for EU infrastructure funding during the German EU Council Presidency that ensures that the objectives of the environmental specifications are met. Climate goals and the preservation of habitats and species diversity must be guaranteed and given top priority.” – Christoph Heinrich, WWF Director of Nature Conservation

For more information:

Irene Lucius, Regional Conservation Director, WWF Central and Eastern Europe, email:
ilucius[at]wwfcee.org, Tel: +43 1 52 45 470 19

Iris Brunar, BUND Elbe Project, mobile: +49 0178-163-0204, email: i.brunar[at]bund.net
Georg Rast, Water Protection Programme Manager, WWF, Tel: +49 030-311 777 208, email: georg.rast[at]wwf.de

BUND Press Office:
Sigrid Wolff | Daniel Jahn | Judith friend | Heye Jensen
Phone: +49 030-27586-425 | -531 | -497 | -464 | email: presse[at]bund.net
You can reach the press office primarily by mobile phone at the moment:
Judith Friend: +49 0176-476 841 64
Heye Jensen: +49 01590-633 23 72


TEN-T: The European Union is currently revising and evaluating the guidelines for the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) and its associated regulations. TEN-T is intended to provide an orientation framework for the expansion of the transport networks. If a project is accepted, the Member States can apply for EU funding. If the Odra-Danube-Elbe Canal were to become part of TEN-T, the probability would increase that the EU would provide substantial assistance in financing the construction, which would cost at least 23 billion Euros.

Original post by WWF – World Wide Fund For Nature on 14 September 2020.