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Commission comments on palm oil offer hope: Now EU should deliver on deforestation

The European Commission’s response to the Parliament resolution on palm oil and deforestation of rainforests attempts, with difficulty, to balance both the environmental and social harm of palm oil plantations against their economic benefit. Several points are encouraging.

The Commission announces that it will invest significantly in the implementation of the FLEGT Action Plan and negotiation of new Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs). It will also consider further means through which FLEGT could address illegal forest conversion (frequently for palm oil plantations) and how illegal logging relates to other drivers of deforestation in producing countries.

These are welcome commitments, given the indecision surrounding FLEGT in recent months. Fern urges the Commission to translate these commitments into concrete action as part of its workplan on the FLEGT Action Plan, which it should publish as soon as possible. Fern hopes that recommendations presented at the EU’s June conference on tackling deforestation and illegal logging will be addressed, especially concerning effective governance reforms. Fern also expects the Commission to address conversion timber more vigorously in VPAs and to elaborate robust measures to deal with it as part of an EU action plan to protect forests and respect rights.

Regarding the challenges caused by weak land governance systems and insufficient land registries, the Commission underlines its support for the development of “Voluntary guidelines on the responsible governance of tenure” (VGGT), endorsed by the FAO’s Committee on World Food Security. It considers these guidelines an essential part of improving land governance for people living on and gaining their livelihood from the land, and is therefore promoting their application in 18 developing countries with a budget of more than EUR 60 million.

The VGGT could be a first step toward establishing mandatory due diligence on EU importers of palm oil – or other commodities for that matter – and it would therefore be helpful to digest lessons learned in applying the VGGT. One opportunity to do so will be when the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) invites companies to participate in the OECD-FAO Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains, which include the VGGT.

As the EU considers future action to curb illegal timber trade and address emerging threats to forests, civil society are encouraged by the vivid debate about strengthening existing measures and developing ambitious policy responses.

Image: a_rabin P3260481 View of palm oil plantation in Cigudeg, Bogor