Blog / 21 Mar 2018

EU must tackle deforestation linked to imports of agricultural commodities

On the International Day of Forests, the NGO Global Witness calls on the EU to finally deliver on its commitments to halt deforestation.

From coffee drunk in French cafes to chocolate eaten in Belgium, Europe’s imports have a huge impact on our global environment.

Foods such as these, eaten across the continent every day, can have devastating impacts on tropical forests millions of miles away, as centuries old forests are cleared to grow ingredients for foods that form a central part of our diet.

Between 1990 and 2008 alone, EU imports accounted for over one third of all globally traded commodities associated with deforestation. And each year, European consumption is responsible for deforested land nearly the size of Cyprus, or a quarter of the size of Belgium.

Though shoppers are becoming increasingly aware of the links between goods like these and the environment, we cannot rely on consumers alone to scrutinise complex supply chains and evaluate in the supermarket aisle the impact on our planet’s forests.

Companies have to ensure that their imports are not fuelling environmental destruction or human rights violations, and the regulations to require them to do this must be put in place.

But currently, EU action to tackle deforestation linked to EU consumption of agricultural commodities is conspicuous only by its absence.

We all know that the Brussels machinery can move slowly, but faced with such an immediate and pressing need, it is concerning we are still waiting for action to be taken.

The European Parliament and Council both recognised the need for action over 5 years ago. Yet, along with other NGOs, we’re still awaiting the European Commission’s announcement of intended action.

A new study published just last Friday by the European Commission takes a first step by evaluating what the EU can do regarding imports of specific commodities associated with deforestation, such as palm oil, soy, rubber, beef, maize, cocoa, and coffee.

The study outlines a number of different policy options the EU can take – but significantly highlights how interventions requiring new legislation or regulation “should have the greatest impact” on tackling deforestation and forest degradation.

It is now time for the European Commission to propose binding legislation to ensure that the EU’s demand for agricultural commodities does not fuel environmental destruction or human rights violations, and to ensure companies are held accountable should they fail to guarantee better sustainability practices in their supply chains.

Ambitious EU action to protect forests would be a major step in mitigating climate change. Halting and reversing deforestation and forest degradation could help us capture as much as 30% of man-made CO2 emissions. It could also mean protecting the livelihoods of an estimated 17% of the global population who rely on forests for their livelihoods, mostly in developing countries.

The EU has committed to halt deforestation by 2020, and time is running out. The Commission must therefore deliver an ambitious Action Plan committing to binding legislation now, before the end of its mandate.

Aleksandra Terzieva campaigns against deforestation at the international NGO Global Witness. 

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