Forests, including rainforests like the Amazon, continue to be deforested at an alarming rate: between 1990 and 2016, the world lost a staggering 1.3 million square kilometres of forest.
Keeping forests standing and restoring ecosystems is essential if the world wants to avert the twin climate and biodiversity crises and meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees.
This FAQ explores the main causes of deforestation and what can be done to prevent it. It ends by analysing the EU’s role is in the fight against deforestation.
What are the causes of deforestation?
Agriculture is the main cause of deforestation. Eighty per cent of global forest loss is due to converting forests to farmland to produce agricultural commodities, such as beef, soy, palm oil and rubber which are largely exported.
Agricultural deforestation happens because of increased global demand for such commodities, government policies to stimulate that demand, and trade and finance policies that facilitate their expansion and sale.
Other causes include illegal logging, mining and poor forest management.
How can you stop deforestation?
Deforestation has different causes depending on the country.
Addressing deforestation therefore requires multiple solutions; there is no one-size fits-all answer.
All solutions, however, must centre on improving forest and land governance (including ensuring government policies have strong buy-in from local communities, NGOs and farmers), respecting Indigenous Peoples’ land rights- and reducing overall demand for commodities (focussing on the most damaging industries, meat, dairy and biomass).
One of the most important players in the fight against deforestation is the European Union (EU).
Why does the European Union have a key role in combatting deforestation?
Several studies have exposed why deforestation’s serious social and human rights impacts are driven by EU trade and imports.
They show that the EU is one of the major importers of ‘forest risk commodities’: such as palm oil (17% of global imports), soy (15%), rubber (25%), beef (41%), maize (30%), cocoa (80%), and coffee (60%).
According to a European Commission study, an area of forest the size of Portugal was lost globally between 1990 and 2008 because of EU consumption of commodities grown on deforested land.
Addressing deforestation is therefore not possible without addressing EU demand.
What is Europe doing to stop deforestation?
Corporate commitments are a crucial first step to ending deforestation, but they are not enough. To really get deforestation under control they need to be accompanied by government regulation.
The EU is developing a law to tackle deforestation. It aims to guarantee that products sold in the EU don’t destroy the planet’s forests.
But if the EU wants to have a real impact on the fight against deforestation, it must do more than clean up its own supply chains. It must learn from its own efforts to end illegal logging, and partner with highly forested countries to tackle the root causes of agricultural deforestation. This can only be done by improving forest governance, clarifying land use, and recognising and strengthening community tenure rights over forest land.
The EU, and its Member States must also reduce consumption of forest-risk commodities like beef palm oil and timber. This includes developing policies to encourage a shift to plant-based diets, and removing harmful incentives that encourage excessive use of biomass.