Tuesday 26th March, London - The UK government has today rejected recommendations by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) to improve much-delayed deforestation trade regulations.

In a statement, the government rejected the Committee’s call to extend the Environment Act to stop the import of all goods linked to deforestation, regardless of whether the deforestation was illegal or permitted by local laws.

The move follows the cross-party EAC inquiry published in January 2024 – to which Global Witness gave evidence – with the MPs concluding that “significant action” is needed to urgently end the UK’s contribution to deforestation.

Responding to the announcement, Naomi Hirst, Forests Campaign Lead at Global Witness, said: “MPs across the political spectrum have proposed sensible measures to stop UK consumers from contributing to deforestation via their pensions and weekly shop.

“Ministers have no excuse for rejecting this accelerated blueprint to end the UK’s contribution to the destruction of climate-critical forests.”

The UK’s approach is weaker than the EU’s. The EU’s new deforestation law requires all businesses to prevent any deforestation in their supply chains and demands compliance with local human rights law.

The EAC inquiry concluded that the Environment Act - the UK’s deforestation law yet to be brought into force - is highly flawed because it only prohibits the import of goods grown on illegally deforested land (as defined by local laws), and called on Ministers to urgently amend the law to also include legal deforestation.

They also told the government introduce a new law to prevent the British financial sector from funding deforestation and human rights abuses overseas, and force businesses to conduct human rights due diligence on their supply chains.

Alexandria Reid, Senior Global Policy Adviser at Global Witness, who gave evidence to the EAC’s inquiry, said: “Only including illegal deforestation creates a perverse incentive for countries to weaken legal protections for forests so they can retain access to the UK market. In Peru, for example, the government has recently decriminalised illegal logging practices despite the protest of local and Indigenous communities, clearly showcasing the weakness of relying on local regulation.

“The UK financial sector includes key players funding the destruction of climate critical forests. Failure to include them in the UK’s anti-deforestation law is a glaring oversight that must be addressed.”

New regulation of the financial sector is supported by those within the industry itself. Last year, financial institutions worth £2.7 trillion backed a new due diligence law that would see them have to carry out checks to ensure their clients are not involved in illegal deforestation or land grabs.

This was successfully voted through the House of Lords, with the government subsequently ordering a Treasury review into the effectiveness of existing UK financial regulations in preventing deforestation finance.

As well as failing to include financial actors, the Environment Act misses key commodities driving forest loss, such as coffee, maize and rubber – which all contribute to the UK’s tropical deforestation footprint, according to Global Witness research with Trase in 2023.

Currently, only cattle products (e.g. beef and leather), soy, oil palm and cocoa are covered by the Act.

As the global date to end commodity-driven deforestation by 2025 rapidly approaches, MPs have urged the government to fix the flaws and introduce the necessary regulations “as a matter of urgency”.