Due negligence

WWF: due diligence law to tackle deforestation must be strengthened

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 26 August 2021

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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Ahead of the Environment Bill returning to the House of Lords in early September, a new report from WWF has found that laws proposed by the UK Government to help eliminate deforestation in UK supply chains risk being ineffective, unless the scope of the legislation is widened.  

Due Negligence examines plans in the Environment Bill to make it mandatory for large companies to carry out due diligence checks to ensure there is no illegal deforestation in their supply chains of forest-risk commodities and derived products.

The proposed measures will still allow products that result from legal deforestation, or devastating change to other natural ecosystems, to be sold in the UK.  

The analysis highlights the complexity of assessing legal versus illegal deforestation: although satellite imaging can identify whether an area has been cleared, it cannot prove whether that action was legal or illegal.

On top of this, complex legal frameworks in producer countries and limited data transparency mean it is often difficult to determine whether a plantation that has been created at the expense of forest and other natural ecosystems has been done so legally.

This makes the proposed UK due diligence regulation extremely difficult for companies to comply with, and the UK government to enforce in practice.

Weakening legal protections

The report further suggests that one potential consequence of the legality model is that producer countries may weaken legal protections on forests and other natural ecosystems, putting more habitat under threat.

One of several controversial bills (PL 2633/20) currently going through the Brazilian Congress, which would give amnesty to land grabbers who have illegally invaded and deforested public lands, already shows this trend.

In Indonesia, the Omnibus Law passed in 2020 has paved the way for the legalisation of plantations located on land that was previously not designated for oil palm plantations. 

The calls to strengthen due diligence measures in the UK’s flagship Environment Bill sit alongside WWF’s push for the government to adopt a legally binding target to slash the UK’s global environmental footprint by 2030.

‘Nature is our ally in the fight against climate change. To protect it, we must drastically reduce the UK’s global environmental footprint, not least by ensuring we aren’t adding to the destruction of precious habitats like the Amazon and Cerrado.  

‘The law proposed by UK government to stop deforestation isn’t yet robust enough and must be strengthened if it is to prevent further destruction of natural ecosystems – whether legal or illegal.  

‘This must sit alongside a legally binding target to slash the UK’s global environmental footprint by 2030. Ministers have promised to protect nature and ensure a safe climate for future generations – we won’t forget should they fail to deliver.’

KATIE WHITE
Executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF

‘Legal’ deforestation

Spatial analysis of the areas in Brazil that supply soy directly to the UK shows that over 2.1 million hectares of natural vegetation – an area equivalent to just over the size of Wales – could potentially be legally converted under current laws.

Even more would be threatened if the remit of ‘legal’ deforestation was further expanded.

Of this 2.1 Mha, according to the most likely scenarios, the report estimates that UK imports of soy from Brazil between 2021 and 2030 could directly result in the conversion of 36-59,000 hectares of that vegetation, storing 18-30 million tonnes of carbon – and much of this (over 70%) could be done legally.

Species impacted

The report also shows that narrowly focusing the legislation on forest habitats rather than all natural ecosystems also increases the risks for both people and wildlife.

Many of the areas that supply the UK with soy are classed as savannah, the predominant vegetation of the Cerrado region of Brazil and home to 5% of world’s biodiversity, including over 12,000 plant species, 856 species of birds and 466 species of reptiles and amphibians – a third of all species found there are unique to this region. 

In the Brazilian municipalities directly exporting soy to the UK, the giant anteater, the brown howler monkey and the giant armadillo are among the 619 plus species impacted by habitat destruction, of which deforestation and conversion are amongst the main drivers.

Small rural producers, Indigenous and other traditional communities are also affected by ongoing deforestation and conversion, regardless of whether it is legal or not. 

Corporate responsibility

In addition to strengthening legislation in the UK, WWF highlights the responsibility of companies to deliver on their policies and commitments to eliminate all deforestation and ecosystem conversion and human rights abuses, across their entire supply chains.

At the same time, the conservation organisation is calling on financial institutions to adopt rigorous screening and monitoring processes to ensure that lending and investment do not contribute to environmental damage. 

As president of the upcoming COP26 climate conference, and convenor of the Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) Dialogue, the UK has an opportunity to demonstrate environmental leadership and bring other nations along towards transformative solutions to halt deforestation and land conversion.

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