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The EU impact on global deforestation

European Commission publishes long-awaited plan to address EU impact on deforestation
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
The EU impact on global deforestation

The European Commission has issued its Communication on deforestation and forest degradation, a pivotal step in securing a much-needed plan of action to address the EU’s significant contribution to global deforestation.

EU consumption is a key driver not only of deforestation but also of the destruction of other ecosystems around the world, linked to commodities such as soy, palm oil, cocoa or meat, of which the EU is a top importer. The EU accounts for as much as 36% of all global imports of crop and livestock products associated with deforestation.

Deforestation and emissions

Deforestation, forest degradation and the conversion of ecosystems (such as savannahs) are key drivers of the climate emergency, and are also known to cause other severe environmental and social impacts.

According to a recent study deforestation in the tropics, largely caused by expanding forestry and agriculture, is increasingly driven by foreign demand. Between 29% and 39% of deforestation-related emissions were linked to international trade between 2010 and 2014.

The study concludes that emissions linked to deforestation constitute around one-sixth (roughly 15%) of the total carbon footprint of food consumption in EU countries. To reduce GHG emissions from land-use change, the role of international demand therefore needs to be considered, and as a major trading bloc, the EU has a key role to play.

‘Deforestation and forest degradation are happening at breakneck speed. It’s clear that the EU needs to radically rethink the way it consumes. Today’s Communication is a step in the right direction. The new European Commission must now get the job done: We need powerful legislation to ensure that no product linked to deforestation or ecosystem destruction is allowed to enter the EU market, and we also need to support producer countries to address the challenges and drivers.’

Senior Forest policy officer at WWF’s European Policy Office

Doing more to protect forests

Although this Communication is a step in the right direction, a number of issues should be resolved and/or taken up by the new European Commission.

Actions should apply to all ecosystems affected by EU consumption, such as savannahs (which are threatened to be converted into soy fields) should be included to reduce our negative impact and to protect biodiversity.

New trade agreements should not only include provisions to conserve or sustainably manage forests and other ecosystems. Trade and sustainability chapters should be made mandatory and accompanied by strict enforcement measures. Regular reviews of existing trade agreements and their impacts on nature and people should also become the norm.

The key actions in the principle on redirecting finance should not only focus on increasing financing for sustainable actions but also stop the funding of measures that are fuelling deforestation, forest degradation and ecosystem conversion.

Halting deforestation by 2020

WWF is calling on the European Commission to take strong and robust action to effectively tackle the EU’s global forest and ecosystem footprint worldwide.

The charity advises introducing regulation to ensure that forest and ecosystem risk commodities being placed on the EU market are sustainably produced and not linked to deforestation, ecosystem conversion, or violation of human rights.

It has called for stronger cooperation with producer and other consumer countries to address the underlying drivers, all the while supporting better governance, respecting the rights of indigenous peoples, smallholders and local communities and enabling balanced multi-stakeholder processes.

Fundamental reform of the EU’s bioenergy policies is also required, as they both drive deforestation and prevent reforestation and are incentivising things that increase emissions dramatically compared with fossil fuels

New incentives must reduce the impact of the food system in the EU on nature and people within the EU and beyond.

Measures must be introduced to ensure that all financial institutions, including banks, investors, insurers and public agencies do not support in any way activities contributing to deforestation, forest degradation, conversion and illegal logging or human rights violations.

The EU must meaningfully implement the international commitments it has made, under the Paris Agreement for climate change, the Convention for Biological Diversity or the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development.

Under the Sustainable Development Goals the EU has committed to halt deforestation by 2020 – the first of January 2020 is less than half a year away.

Click here to read our article on the companies failing to disclose their impact on deforestation.

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