Saturday

17th Apr 2021

Opinion

Deforestation and the failure of EU self-regulation

  • The problem is clear: guidelines and voluntary approaches in the European Union are failing to prevent environmental destruction at scale, by governments, companies and investors (Photo: Flickr)

As we enter what would normally be a quiet summer for Europe's politicians, there is one issue that won't fade from public conversation: climate breakdown.

Over the last year we've seen growing alarm around the destruction of our global climate: rainforests the size of Belgium deforested in a single year.

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A surge in deforestation in Brazil which saw 739 square kilometres of forests destroyed in just one month.

Hundreds of land and environmental defenders killed and cleared from their land to make way for agribusiness, mining and logging. A growing swell of political and public anger against high temperatures and environmental damage.

But as policy makers and MEPs pack up their bags for the final month of summer, they leave behind a nugget of hope for our global forests – a building block crucial for saving the planet.

On Tuesday (23 July), we saw the long-awaited publication of the communication on deforestation from the European Commission – and a hope from ourselves at Global Witness and many other environmental NGOs that the EU will follow up with concrete action in the form of legislation when politicians return from their summer break.

This communication recognises the need for the EU to take action to tackle deforestation and opens the door to potential regulation of the EU's supply chains.

One-third of deforestation in EU imports

This is important because the European Commission's own study found that EU imports were responsible for over a third of all deforestation embodied in crop and livestock products traded between regions over the period 1990-2008.

In other words, at least 30 percent of global deforestation is linked to products traded and consumed on our own doorstep.

And the companies most involved in this trade are collectively failing to self-regulate.

None of the 500 main companies and financial institutions in forest-risk supply chains is on track to eliminate commodity-driven deforestation from their supply chains and portfolios by 2020, despite making commitments to do so.

And while nearly all – 92 percent – reporting companies that include forest-related issues identify substantial risks, almost a third of reporting companies do not include forest-related issues in their risk assessments at all.

The problem is clear: guidelines and voluntary approaches in the European Union are failing to prevent environmental destruction at scale, by governments, companies and investors.

Now is the time for the EU to tackle deforestation and climate breakdown by introducing legislation to require companies to conduct checks on their supply chains to identify, mitigate, prevent and account for environmental impacts and human rights abuses.

This is one of the reasons Global Witness, along with ClientEarth, has released a detailed briefing on what this kind of due diligence looks like.

The communication paves the way for the EU to show global leadership on deforestation.

The new European Commissioners and MEPs must show they are serious about prioritising action to tackle climate change by dealing with the environmental destruction associated with the EU's own imports and investments.

Only with urgent and immediate action to stop EU consumption and investment driving deforestation will the EU make a difference for the world's remaining forests, and ensure that the EU is not complicit in their destruction.

Replanting of forests will take centuries to restore the carbon lost through deforestation, so all efforts must now be focused on protecting our remaining forests if we want to meet goals for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Agreement.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity – and our politicians and policy makers must step up to deliver when they return from their summer break.

Business as usual on forests is no longer an option.

Author bio

Jo Blackman is head of forests policy & advocacy at Global Witness.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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