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World-first law against deforestation

EU leaders seal deal for groundbreaking law to stop deforestation
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Sunrise over mountains and forests in autumn

The EU will no longer allow products that are linked to the destruction of forests onto the EU market.

This historic agreement was reached yesterday (05 Dec), when EU decision-makers concluded negotiations for an EU deforestation law.

A world-first law

This regulation is the first in the world to tackle global deforestation and will significantly reduce the EU’s footprint on nature.

The EU is one of the world’s largest importers of tropical deforestation and associated emissions, second only to China.

‘We have made history with this world-first law against deforestation. As a major trading bloc, the EU will not only change the

rules of the game for consumption within its borders, but will also create a big incentive for other countries fuelling deforestation to change their policies. The law is not perfect but it includes strong elements.’

Senior forest policy officer at WWF European Policy Office

The EU and deforestation

In 2017, the EU was responsible for 16% of deforestation associated with international trade, totalling 203,000 hectares and 116 million tonnes of CO₂. The EU was surpassed by China (24%) but outranked India (9%), the United States (7%) and Japan (5%). 

Between 2005-2017, soy, palm oil and beef were the commodities with the largest embedded tropical deforestation imported into the EU, followed by wood products, cocoa and coffee.

In addition, EU consumption is driving the conversion of other natural ecosystems, including the Brazilian savannah of the Cerrado.


The outcome is a significant win of WWF’s global #Together4Forests campaign, which has brought together more than 210 NGOs to fight for a strong EU law against deforestation over the last two years.

‘This deal shows that 1.2 million citizens, 217 NGOs across the world, scientists, indigenous leaders and progressive companies that have actively supported the #Together4Forests campaign have been listened to at last. Deforestation will no longer end up on the supermarket shelves and dinner plates in the EU – this is a massive win for our campaign. Civil society has shown its power once more!’

EU Campaign Manager at the WWF European Policy Office

How the deforestation law will work

One of the most unique aspects of this law is that new rules will go beyond legality: in order to enter the EU market, products must not only be legal according to the producing country’s standards, but also free of deforestation and forest degradation.

Negotiators have also agreed to keep the level of ambition in the Commission’s proposal by covering a wide range of products, including soy, palm oil, beef, coffee, crucial timber products such as printed products and rubber.

Notably, this law will also provide consumers with the certainty that products have been traced back to  where they were produced, preventing potential loopholes in the first stages of the supply chain.

A law is only good if it is appropriately enforced. Despite some differences of opinion throughout the negotiations, decision-makers agreed that percentage-based annual checks on companies and products will be included to control whether or not they comply with the legislation. Penalties will have to cover at least 4% of turnover of a company in the EU.

Other ecosystems not protected

Despite a strong citizen mobilisation, decision-makers excluded a few important elements.

Negotiators decided not to support the Parliament’s proposal to extend the scope immediately  to other wooded land such as savannahs, even though many of these are already under immense pressure from agricultural conversion.

These ecosystems are important carbon stores and a refuge for animals, in addition to providing  livelihoods for Indigenous peoples and local communities.

As a compromise, the Commission will conduct an impact assessment on the feasibility of including other natural ecosystems and will review this option one year after the implementation of the law.

‘It is a shame that other wooded land is not included from the start, as it would have made a huge difference for regions that are under constant threat, such as the Brazilian Cerrado – which might now face even more destruction as a result. The European Commission must now urgently start working on the impact assessment to have it ready in a year at the latest.’

Senior forest policy officer at WWF European Policy Office

Missed opportunities

Unfortunately, the definition of forest degradation is not sufficiently ambitious. It does not address the degradation within an existing forest but the conversion of a primary or naturally regenerating forest into a forest plantation.

Another missed opportunity was the lack of clear recognition of human rights, particularly of Indigenous peoples and local communities. Concretely, there was no reference to relevant international conventions.

The current text limits the scope of human rights to national laws: this means that if certain rights of Indigenous peoples or local communities are not reflected in national legislation, they will not not be protected under the EU law either. 

The foundations to end deforestation

Now that the main cornerstones of the new law have been agreed upon, negotiators will meet in the coming weeks to iron out a few remaining details and finalise the text. 

The #Together4Forests movement, backed by more than 210 NGOs the world over, will follow the implementation of this law closely over the coming years.

‘This is not over yet, just the first step. We have the foundations to end deforestation, but now we need to make it happen.’

Senior forest policy officer at WWF European Policy Office

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