On 23 July 2019 the European Commission released its long-overdue plans to combat global deforestation. This followed countless calls for ambitious action from the European Parliament, governments and citizens. The significant delay in releasing the document was reportedly due to concern that it could jeopardise the then-ongoing negotiations for a free trade agreement with Mercosur countries, finalised at the end of June.
The new Communication, “Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests,” is the result of five years of intense NGO campaigning. Fern welcomes the fact that it opens the door to regulation of supply chains in order to minimise the risk of deforestation associated with imports of agricultural commodities into the EU.
This proposal, however, is only one among many. Others range from “reducing the EU consumption footprint” to “strengthening international cooperation” and “working in partnership with producing countries to reduce pressures on forests”.
While the document aims to be comprehensive, several issues have been overlooked.
The EU must reduce its overconsumption of so-called “forest-risk commodities”, whose production drives global deforestation and land grabs. Yet the Commission merely attempts to “green” its current consumption; it neither questions it, nor aims to reduce it.
Furthermore, while the Communication says it wants to transform specific value chains, such as coffee, cocoa, palm oil and beef, it makes no mention of soya – the biggest culprit in the EU’s deforestation footprint.
The focus on land rights is also insufficient. While research shows that securing tenure rights is a powerful solution to prevent deforestation, the Communication’s support for forest governance is rather weak. The Commission acknowledges the FLEGT Action Plan, the EU’s main tool for fighting against illegal logging and strengthening land rights, but fails to commit to granting adequate resources to encourage faster progress in timber producing countries. Also, the Communication does not elaborate on how the Commission plans to address land rights or deforestation caused by agriculture (80 per cent of deforestation) beyond the FLEGT framework.
Finally, Fern welcomes the Commission’s proposal to “promote trade agreements that encourage trade in agricultural and forest-based products not causing deforestation or forest degradation”. The Commission also foresees “incentives to trade partners to address deforestation”. Such commitments, however, were avoided until after Mercosur negotiations concluded.
It is now up to the Member States in the Council and the Members of the European Parliament to express their views on the Communication. The magnitude of their support will be decisive in shaping any future regulation: strong resolutions will help make this Communication a priority of the newly appointed European Commission President.