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NGO calls for action as report reveals EU’s deforestation footprint is twice as big as China and Japan’s combined

2 July 2013

Today the European Commission releases a study (1) outlining the full extent of the European Union’s (EU) contribution to deforestation. It finds that the EU consumes crops and livestock which embody 36 per cent of global deforestation, making it the largest deforester in the world(2). In response, FERN, the European forest NGO, has called upon the EU to develop an Action Plan to address its destructive consumption patterns. 

The study is the result of a 2008 Commission Communication which states the EU’s aim to halve deforestation by 2020 and stop deforestation by 2030. The Communication requested that the Commission “study the impact of EU consumption of imported food and non-food commodities (e.g. meat, soy beans, palm oil, metal ores) that are likely to contribute to deforestation. This could lead to considering policy options to reduce this impact".

Saskia Ozinga, campaigns coordinator at FERN explained: “Although this report shows the EU as the world’s biggest deforester, the real picture may even be worse as deforestation has increased due to consumption of biofuels (palm oil) since 2004 when some of the data used for the study was collected(3). Worse still, EU plans to increase biomass use will require an additional 318 million m³ of round wood from forests between 2010 and 2020, wood which is simply not available.”

The EU has been able to convincingly tackle deforestation related problems before. In 1990, confronted with the negative impact on illegal logging, the EU developed an Action Plan to reduce illegal logging. Studies by Chatham House (4) and FERN (5) have indicated that this plan has been successful in reducing illegal logging and strengthening communities’ rights to the land they rely on.

The challenge for the EU is to come up with an Action Plan to address deforestation caused by large scale agriculture in a similar way as it did with illegal logging: by linking demand side measures in the EU to improving governance in producer countries: an Action Plan on Demand-led Reduction of Agricultural Deforestation (DRAD). Such an Action Plan is also called for in the EU’s Seventh Environmental Action Programme (7).

The Action Plan should among others:

  • Remove the EU’s biofuels target;
  • Propose ways to ensure reductions directly benefit local communities’ livelihoods(6);
  • Increase import tariffs of commodities associated with deforestation;
  • Focus on reducing beef consumption and food waste.

Saskia Ozinga concludes “FERN’s hope is that the EU will respond with a fully fledged Action Plan as it did with the problem of illegal logging. Deforestation embodied in agriculture is a complicated issue and cannot be solved through sustainability criteria, or the mandatory labelling of the forest footprint of (food) products.”

For more information please contact Saskia Ozinga

Tel: 0044 7810 447401




(1)   The study is available here:

(2)   Over the period 1990-2008, crops and livestock imported by the EU27 embodied almost 36% of all deforestation in products traded between regions (9mha of deforested land).

(3)   Data sets used include data from 1990-2010 for deforestation and apparent consumption, and 2004 for final consumption analysis.

(4)   “Illegal logging is estimated to have fallen during the last decade by 50 per cent in Cameroon, by between 50 and 75 per cent in the Brazilian Amazon, and by 75 per cent in Indonesia, while imports of illegally sourced wood to the seven consumer and processing countries studied are down 30 per cent from their peak” quoted from Chatham House; Illegal logging and related trade by Sam Lawson and Larry MacFaul (2010) available at:,%20Environment%20and%20Development/0710pr_illegallogging.pdf

(5)   FERN; Improving Forest Governance, a comparison of FLEGT VPAs by An Bollen and Saskia Ozinga, available at

(6)   There is extensive evidence that community ownership over forest land is the best way to reduce deforestation. See among others: Andrew Nelson and Kenneth M. Chomitz, 2011, “Effectiveness of Strict vs. Multiple Use Protected Areas in Reducing Tropical Forest Fires: A Global Analysis Using Matching Methods,” PLoS ONE 6, no. 8: e22722.; Persha L, Agrawal A, and Chhatre A, 2011, “Social and Ecological Synergy: Local Rulemaking, Forest Livelihoods, and Biodiversity Conservation” Science  331 (6024):1606-1608; Porter-Bolland, L., Ellis, E.A., Guariguata, M.R., Ruiz-Mallén, I., Negrete-Yankelevich, S., Reyes-García, V, 2011, Community managed forests and forest protected areas: an assessment of their conservation effectiveness across the tropics, Forest Ecology and Management,; Ricketts T H et al., 2010, “Indigenous Lands, Protected Areas, and Slowing Climate Change” PloS Biology, March 2010; Ashwini Chhatre and Arun Agrawal, 2009, Trade-offs and synergies between carbon storage and livelihood benefits from forest commons, PNAS, www.pnas.org_cgi_doi_10.1073_pnas.0905308106;  Hayes, T M and Murtinho, F, 2008, "Are indigenous forest reserves sustainable? An analysis of present and future land-use trends in Bosawas, Nicaragua", International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology 15(6): 497-511; Nepstad D, Schwartzman S, Bamberger B, Santilli M, Ray D, et al., 2006, Inhibition of Amazon deforestation and fire by parks and indigenous lands. Conservation Biology 20: 65–73;  Forest Peoples Programme’s documents on Climate, Forests and Rights: .

(7)   The 7 EAP states: “Assessing the environmental impact, in a global context, of EU consumption of food and non-food commodities and, if appropriate, developing policy proposals to address the findings of such assessments, and considering the development of an EU action plan on deforestation and forest degradation.”