Tropical forests continue to be felled at an alarming rate: in 2017 alone, 15.8 million hectares (ha) were lost, the second highest year of the past decade.
Eighty per cent of global forest loss is due to the conversion of forest to agricultural land to produce socalled ‘forest risk commodities’, such as beef, soya and palm oil, which are largely exported.
The EU is a large driver of this deforestation through its consumption of agricultural commodities and its financing of infrastructure projects. The EU is one of the major importers of forest risk commodities: i.e. palm oil (25% of global imports), soy (15%), rubber (25%), beef (41%), maize (30%), cocoa (80%), and coffee (60%).
Agricultural deforestation happens because of increased global demand for forest risk commodities, government policies that aim to meet and stimulate that demand, and trade and finance policies that facilitate their sale and transport. Addressing deforestation is not possible without addressing EU demand.
Nearly half of forest conversion (2000 – 2012) for agricultural commodities is estimated to be illegal. The EU is a large driver of illegal deforestation: in 2012, the EU imported €6 billion of soy, beef, leather and palm oil which came from land illegally cleared of tropical forest. This represents almost a quarter of the total world trade, the equivalent to one football pitch of illegal deforestation every two minutes.
The EU must therefore develop policies that reduce its consumption of forest risk commodities to a level that can be sustainably produced AND pass a regulation ensuring its imports are free from deforestation and human rights violations.
In producer countries, no one size fits all solution
Deforestation has different causes depending on the country. In Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, cacao production is driving deforestation, but cacao planting (and often rubber) is done by small farmers and is rarely associated with large scale land conversion. In contrast, in Brazil, Malaysia or Indonesia, clearing of forests for beef, soya and palm oil is often done by bigger actors at an immense scale.
Addressing deforestation therefore requires country level solutions; there is no one-size fits-all answer.
All solutions, however, must centre on improving forest and land governance, respecting community land rights and developing a process in which governmental policies to halt deforestation are developed with strong buy-in from local stakeholders (such as local communities, NGOs and the private sector).