The Council of Environmental Ministers adopted Conclusions on a Circular Economy Action Plan, on 20 June 2016, in which they ask the Commission to take more action to ensure sustainable sourcing and supply of raw materials. From a forest perspective, the sustainable use of renewable resources should have been given greater attention in the Commission’s Action Plan, and the Council’s request is a positive reminder that more concrete initiatives are needed. However, the Council’s invitation to the Commission and Member States to promote nature- and bio-based solutions, are premature. They have not been thoroughly studied, and their value is uncertain. Fern asks that robust sustainability indicators and a monitoring framework for the bio-economy be put in place before bio-based solutions are actively promoted.
In a debate with MEPs in the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee 21 June 2016, Climate Commissioner Cañete hinted at what the new LULUCF proposal would look like. On the positive side, he mentioned that LULUCF would not be merged with the EU’s Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) but have its own dedicated climate instrument, with a mandate to ‘design a governance system that optimises the contribution of the LULUCF sector in the future.’ This should be an opportunity to ensure forests can help us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to below zero. However, the Commissioner also said that a ‘limited amount of flexibility’ would be allowed between the new LULUCF pillar and the ESD; Fern believes this would undermine the EU’s climate commitment in Paris, not least because LULUCF was not included in the 1990 baseline measurements against which emissions are counted. Credits from LULUCF would be limited to countries with high agriculture emissions, and only be calculated once accounting rules are improved.
On 24 June 2016, the Dutch EU presidency, together with MVO Oils and Fats Industry and IDH (Sustainable Trade Initiative), held a meeting to explore practical means ofensuring that only deforestation-free palm oil is imported into the EU. Representatives from governments, the European Commission, private sector and civil society organisations discussed policy options in support of the Amsterdam Declarations on Sustainable Palm Oil and Eliminating Deforestation from Agricultural Commodity Chains. NGOs called for stronger, mandatory approaches. Governments and companies such as Cargill and Wilmar, favoured voluntary approaches, while reiterating their commitment to reach Sustainable Development Goal 15.2 to halt deforestation by 2020. Earlier this year, community leaders from palm oil-producing countries such as Indonesia had called upon EU Member States to take urgent action to stop deforestation for palm oil.
France is considering introducing new provisions to expand the use of biodiversity offsetting and to institutionalise ‘biodiversity banks.’ This risky move conflicts with mounting evidence that biodiversity offsetting does not replace lost biodiversity and could lead to greater losses; evidence that led both the UK and the EU renounce plans to introduce legislation on this issue. This autumn, the EU will produce a Communication based on the outcome of the Birds and Habitats Directives review, which overwhelmingly found that that the directives were both relevant and effective. It is understood that as part of this Communication, the Commission will also issue some guidance on no net loss. At the least, France would do well to wait and reconsider.
State conservation authorities in Cote d’Ivoire are forcibly evicting smallholder cocoa farmers from protected forests, according to a report released in June 2016 by Human Rights Watch and the Ivorian Coalition of Human Rights Actors (RAIDH). These cocoa farmers, who produce mainly for European markets, report frequent instances of extortion, evictions without prior notice, physical abuse, and destruction of homes and possessions at the hands of Cote d’Ivoir’s Forestry Development Agency (Société de Développement des Forêts, SODEFOR). Human Rights Watch has called on the Ivorian government to halt forced evictions immediately, and to develop alternatives that protect forests while respecting farmers’ rights. An October 2015 Fern briefing offers possible ways forward.