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News in brief October 2017

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On 3 October 2017, the European Parliament (EP) passed a resolution urging the EU to increase its 2030 climate targets and to devise a strategy to bring European emissions to zero by 2050. The EP called for this to be done before the November 2018 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting, where the ambition of countries’ Paris Agreement commitments will be reviewed and – it is hoped – revised upward. The EU is currently negotiating a Regulation for the Governance of the Energy Union, for which the Commission proposes a zero emissions target for 2050. In December, the EP Environment and Energy committees must vote yes to this proposal, as well as action to increase European forest cover.

An event organised by Fern and Birdlife Europe, “Lungs of the Earth – forest policies for health and climate” (28 September 2017), explored how forests can continue to combat climate change, provide clean air, and support biodiversity and human wellbeing. It was hosted by MEPs Paul Brannen and Benedek Jávor, and attended by decision-makers working on the Clean Energy Package and the LULUCF Regulation, industry stakeholders, NGOs and academics. They examined what kind of policies could help the EU meet its climate, energy and clean air objectives. Two keynote speeches were based on an insightful report by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), which argues that several benefits could be gained simultaneously with policy that enhances forest carbon stocks, sinks, biodiversity and resilience of EU forests, and incentives should ensure that “cleaner earns and polluter pays”. The event provided a scientific basis for finalising the deeply compromised LULUCF regulation and the bioenergy sustainability criteria in the Environment Committee of the European Parliament. Full presentations are available here.

As the Commission considers renewing glyphosate’s licence, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp weedkiller, the European Parliament took a step in the right direction, withdrawing access to Parliament for the Monsanto group’s lobbyists. This unprecedented move – backed by all the major party bloc leaders – was made after Monsanto refused to attend a parliamentary hearing on the Monsanto Papers, a scandal surrounding the multinational’s organised disinformation and undue influence with regulatory authorities. For instance, the European Food Safety Authority had previously recommended glyphosate’s relicensing on the basis of a renewal assessment report (RAR) that was found to contain passages lifted directly from Monsanto texts. Glyphosate’s current approval expires 15 December 2017.

On 18 September 2017, former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, an architect of the Paris Agreement, and Unilever CEO Paul Polman joined voices calling on the EU to take regulatory action to combat deforestation in the global south by addressing the EU’s voracious appetite for imports of intensively produced, massively destructive meat, dairy and animal feed. Several Member States have signed the Amsterdam Declaration to remove deforestation from agricultural supply chains, but Figueres pointed out that the linked issues of food, forest destruction and land use have not received enough attention at EU level. Fern agrees completely: our Recommendations for an EU Action Plan to Protect Forests and Respect Rights further assert that such a plan must define measures to improve forest governance, clarify land use, and recognise and strengthen community tenure rights over forest land. Join the Twitter debate using #EUstopdeforestation.

On the International Day of Peace, 21 September, communities around the globe mobilise to draw international attention to their fight against industrial monocultures. In Cameroon, hundreds of villagers living near the SOCAPALM’s palm oil plantations, where community rights violations have long been reported (FW 205, FW 213), marched peacefully. They called on the company, a subsidiary of EU company SOCFIN, to engage in dialogue and respect rights, and on their government to act. Reacting to a complaint, the Belgian OECD national contact point had in June partly recognised the company’s shortcomings. It noted that an Action Plan agreed in 2013 had been only partially implemented, regretted SOCFIN’s refusal to accept independent monitoring and recommended that SOCFIN improve its conduct and implement specific OECD guiding principles on responsible business and due diligence in the agricultural sector. Cameroon is also engaged in TFA 2020’s African Palm Oil Initiative for a responsible palm oil industry in West and Central Africa, which focuses on transparency, governance and rights. Yet as the SOCFIN case illustrates, voluntary measures have limits: companies can simply choose not to play along. EU regulation on responsible business conduct by European companies is required.

They can’t be trained! The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) keeps tweeting that burning forests is better than burning fossil fuels. It does not bode well for the future of forests and the climate that the FAO does not know its facts. Burning forests can emit as much or more carbon dioxide than coal; burning trees is not ‘carbon neutral’ as some still claim. Earlier this year 46 environmental NGOs asked the FAO to change its messaging based on the latest research.

After seven months of negotiations, the Netherlands have formed a new coalition government. The four government parties have published their ‘regeerakkoord’, a document spelling out agreed government policy, in which forests are not mentioned, but climate is. The document announces the closing of all coal-fired power plants by 2030, co-firing with biomass will no longer be subsidised after 2024, and an increase in wind energy is projected. Recognising that the planned EU emission reduction is insufficient, the Dutch aim instead for a 55 per cent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2030 and commit to a 49 per cent reduction. The document sets aside EUR four billion per year for this transition.

European chocolate consumption is driving vast illegal deforestation in Cote d’Ivoire, investigations by the Guardian and US-based Mighty Earth have revealed. More than 60 per cent of Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa exports are headed to Europe. Nestlé, Mondelez, Ferrero and other big brands buy large amounts of cocoa beans grown illegally inside protected areas in Côte d’Ivoire, where rainforest cover has been reduced by more than 80 per cent since 1960. If nothing is done, by 2030 there will be no forest left. Cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire is also closely associated with child labour, corruption amongst forest agency officials, and human rights abuses.