In October 2018, the French government published a new national strategy to combat the deforestation caused by its imports of soy, palm oil, beef, cocoa and wood, setting a target of ending such “embodied deforestation” by 2030. Other EU Member States must now join France’s efforts.
At the strategy’s first steering committee meeting, 7 May 2019 at France’s Ministère de la Transition écologique et solidaire, more than thirty representatives of various stakeholder groups (French government, private sector, NGOs and research institutions) discussed implementation and how to evaluate progress.
Ambassador for the Environment Yann Wehrling underscored that the international context is not really conducive to addressing deforestation. He gave examples of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, March 2019, where France pushed for the adoption of a declaration on deforestation that failed because of opposition from Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia. In May, France also tried to set up a deforestation initiative at the Environment G7 in Metz, which Japan and the United States opposed.
Despite the lack of international commitment, France is determined to move forward, bringing other consumer countries along with it. Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs is coordinating with the French Agency for Development (AFD) to establish country roadmaps. The intention is to support producer countries’ implementation of their international commitments and the development of sustainable value chains for the French market; analyse what is working and what is missing; and establish a dialogue with producer countries’ authorities. These roadmaps will also factor in French import data from customs and exchanges with the private sector. Wehrling has already met with authorities of producing countries such as Côte d'Ivoire, Indonesia and Malaysia to discuss the French strategy.
However, as the EU is one of the world’s largest consumer of deforestation-driving goods, only an EU-wide approach will be sufficient: other EU Member States must take up the French example. The European Commission recently published a roadmap announcing plans to “step up European Action against Deforestation and Forest Degradation”, as well as a new Communication in early 2019 to “develop a more coherent and comprehensive approach to the problem”.
Member States should join France’s efforts, and together they should call for an ambitious regulation, as voluntary measures have proven inadequate. The time is right: a striking majority of Europeans want new laws to ensure that the food they eat and the products they buy do not drive global deforestation, according to a poll released this month (FW 246), and Greens have made gains in Parliamentary elections (FW 246).