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Blog: How can EU policies halt deforestation?

By Nicole Polsterer

In the five years between 2010 and 2015, EU consumption raized an area of forests the size of Portugal. In 2012 alone, the EU imported EUR 6 billion of soy, palm, leather, and beef produced on forests illegally converted to agricultural land. So how can EU policies ensure that we, as EU citizens and consumers, are not complicit in human rights abuses and deforestation, just by eating beef, using shampoo or filling up our cars with biofuels?

There is no silver bullet, in fact when Fern completed a three-year investigation into the topic we found changes would be needed to EU trade, climate, agricultural and energy policies. You can find them in series of publications ‘Protecting Forests, Respecting Rights’ or simply read our new summary with recommendations for an Action Plan to Protect Forests and Respect Rights.

All solutions do however have common themes – they won’t work unless we start by reducing EU consumption of forest risk commodities, and we need to ensure that our commodities are legally and sustainably produced. To achieve this, the EU will need to work with producer countries, supporting them to develop legal and sustainable supply chains. The good news is that a lot is already happening.

For a start, many companies have made zero- deforestation commitments, and all UN Member States have agreed to halt deforestation by 2020. The EU can and should build on these initiatives.

What the EU should not do is hide behind these commitments as if saying you will do something is the same as achieving it! Our interviews and analysis of 23 major companies trading and consuming forest risk commodities clearly indicate that they cannot meet the goals of halting deforestation without the help of producer country governments, for example in the creation of clear, just land tenure systems.

Agricultural expansion, the largest driver of deforestation, goes hand in hand with human rights violation, and even killings in the cases of Honduras, Brazil and Laos. Most of these were related to land conflicts. It is therefore essential that respect for human rights and specifically community tenure, (communities and Indigenous Peoples are estimated to hold as much as 65 percent of the world’s land area under customary systems) is at the forefront of EU action to tackle its forest risk commodities footprint.

So what role can EU policy play?  Let me focus on two principles:

First, transparency, a key part of accountability. The EU can and should require transparency in commodity supply chains and the financial sector. Transparency is one of the key ingredients of an EU recipe to halt deforestation.

The second ingredient is improving governance, and specifically respect for community tenure rights.

We don’t start from scratch here either. The EU could help implement the FAO Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Forests and Fisheries which have already been adopted by 190 countries, and form part of the OECD Guidelines for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains. There is already international consensus about what should happen, and experts and organisations are starting to put the agreed principles into practice.

But how could the EU help implementation?

The EU could support producer countries to work with civil society and businesses to agree country specific definitions of what responsible governance of tenure means, and design structures to reform supply chains to be deforestation-free.

The EU and other importing countries could then ensure importers of forest risk commodities and their financial supporters conduct due diligence exercises to only import where supply chains are shown to be free of destruction. Again, there is a precedent as the EU has adopted mandatory due diligence when regulating conflict minerals and illegal timber and illegal fisheries.

Although global supply chains are increasingly complex, there are policy measures the EU can use to ensure we are not complicit in deforesting the planet. Transparency and respect for community tenure rights must be the first ingredients. To read more visit: Recommendations for an EU Action Plan to Protect Forests and Respect Rights

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