‘EU risks missing out on opportunity for global leadership role in ending deforestation’

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/luoman
© GettyImages/luoman

Related tags: deforestation, EU Commission, due diligence

A newly released draft law on deforestation would seem to prioritize the ‘cleaning up’ of domestic supply chains rather than trying to curb the issue at origin, according to three stakeholder groups.

“We are concerned that the regulation would not have the desired impact in producer countries, where deforestation remains a serious issue,” ​said Philippe Mitko, president of COCERAL, the European association of trade in cereals, oilseeds, pulses, olive oil, oils and fats, feed and agrosupply.

“The EU risks missing out on an opportunity for a global leadership role in ending deforestation,”​ he added.

New rules

That trade group, along with other industry representatives, FEDIOL and FEFAC, were reacting to a publication from the EU Commission today​ aimed at minimizing EU-driven deforestation and forest degradation; the new rules are tied into the EU executive’s EU Green Deal ambitions.

The draft law, which is focused on goods such as soy, beef, palm oil, wood, cocoa and coffee along with some derived products, such as leather, chocolate and furniture, but not rubber, follows the pledge​ by world leaders at COP26 to reverse deforestation.

The text sets out binding due diligence ​obligations for operators and traders to carry out risk assessment and mitigation measures to comply with the marketing prohibition on goods associated with deforestation, translating into detailed requirements for traceability, including geo-localization of the farm or plot of production, transmission of information and physical segregation of products.

A benchmarking system operated by the Commission will identify countries as presenting a low, standard or high risk of producing commodities or products that are not deforestation-free or in accordance with the legislation of the producer country. 

‘A step forward’

The Commission calls the initiative “groundbreaking”​ and says the proposed regulation takes a decisive step forward by moving beyond illegal deforestation to address any deforestation driven by agricultural expansion to produce the commodities in question. 

Executive VP for the EU Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said: “To succeed in the global fight against the climate and biodiversity crises we must take the responsibility to act at home as well as abroad. Our deforestation regulation answers citizens' calls to minimize the European contribution to deforestation and promote sustainable consumption."

It argues that by promoting the consumption of ‘deforestation-free' products and reducing the EU's impact on global deforestation and forest degradation, the new rules will reduce GHG emissions and biodiversity loss.

The Open Public Consultation​ that the Commission launched for this legislative proposal gathered more than 1.2 million responses, the second most popular in the EU’s history. Such a response, it said, indicates the overwhelming support for EU action to tackle the issue.

Smallholders 'jeopardized'

However, Jordi Costa, president of FEDIOL, the EU vegetable oil and protein meal industry association, said the requirements, as proposed under the draft law, do not reflect the reality of the market and risk the eventual exclusion of small players in the supply chain.

“By implementing such restrictive measures, the Commission does not leave room for tailored approaches adjusted, for instance, to smallholders, good farmers [based] in problematic areas or developing countries, in their attempt to improve their production practices,”​ he commented.

Warning about high risk countries

The provision to benchmark producer countries according to a low, standard or high level of risk is another concerning aspect of the EU proposal, noted Asbjørn Børsting, president of FEFAC, the EU feed manufacturers’ federation.

“If sourcing from countries that are considered high-risk gets too complicated, the supply chain will adjust to risk-avoidance. This will reduce the EU’s leverage to positively influence the situation in those countries and we can expect farmers and operators at origin to lose interest to cater to market demands that hold sustainability in high regard.”

Environmental campaigners, Mighty Earth, called the proposed legislation "a major leap forward"​ in that it addresses both legal and illegal deforestation in producing countries, but the organization decried the fact the draft law does not cover the destruction of ecosystems such as savannahs, wetlands and peatlands.

Collaboration on the cards

As well as the announced legislative changes, the Commission pledged to step up dialogue with other big consumer countries and engage multilaterally to join efforts on curbing deforestation.

Deforestation and forest degradation are important drivers of global warming and biodiversity loss, with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimating​ that 420 million hectares of forest — an area larger than the EU — were lost to deforestation between 1990 and 2020.

In terms of net area loss, the difference between area of forest cleared and new surface of forests planted or regenerated, the FAO estimates that the world lost around 178 million hectares of forest cover in the same period of time, which is an area triple the size of France.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates​ that 23% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions (2007-2016) come from agriculture, forestry and other land uses. About 11% of overall emissions are from forestry and other land use, mostly deforestation, while the remaining 12% are direct emissions from agricultural production such as livestock and fertilizers.

The draft law will now be discussed in the Council and in the European Parliament and then agreed among the three institutions, said a Commission spokesperson. 

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