Despite politicians’ commitments to protecting global ecosystems, forests are being cut at an alarming rate in Europe, the Amazon, the Congo Basin and South-East Asia: since 1990 the world has lost a staggering 4.2 million square kilometres of forest due to conversion of forest land to other uses such as agriculture.
Keeping forests standing and restoring ecosystems is essential if the world wants to avert the climate and biodiversity crises and meet the globally agreed goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius – reaffirmed in 2021 in the Glasgow Climate Pact.
This page explores the main causes of deforestation and what can be done to prevent it. It also analyses the EU’s role is in the fight against deforestation.
What are the causes of deforestation?
Agriculture is the main driver of deforestation. Eighty per cent of global forest loss is due to converting forests to farmland to produce agricultural commodities, such as beef, palm oil, soy, cocoa, rubber, coffee and timber which are largely exported.
Agricultural deforestation is driven by 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 we 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 tenure and reducing overall demand for deforestation-linked commodities (focusing on the most damaging industries, meat, dairy and biomass).
Why does the European Union have a key role in combatting deforestation?
Studies show that 10 per cent of global deforestation is driven by EU imports of forest risk commodities including palm oil, soy, rubber, beef, maize, cocoa, and coffee. Such deforestation also has serious social and human rights impacts.
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.
Other than China, the EU is the largest market for forest risk commodities. Addressing deforestation is therefore not possible without addressing EU demand.
What is Europe doing to stop deforestation?
Many companies have committed to removing deforestation from their supply chains but this will not solve the current crisis. To really get deforestation under control, governments need to regulate.
The EU is doing just that. In November 2021, the European Commission presented its proposal for a Regulation on deforestation-free products. This new law aims to prevent certain commodities and derived products from entering the EU market if they are produced illegally or cause deforestation and forest degradation.
But if the EU wants to have a real impact on the fight against global deforestation, it must do more than clean up its own supply chains. It must partner with highly forested countries to tackle the root causes of agricultural deforestation and support local communities and smallholders, whose livelihoods will be affected by the new law.
Such partnerships should aim to improve forest governance, clarify land use, and strengthen forest communities’ land rights.
The EU and its Member States must play a leading role in the protection of the world’s remaining forests, and this law presents a unique opportunity to do so. This will also help protect human rights, halt biodiversity loss, and tackle climate change.
This video explains the issues at stake and the loopholes that need to be closed by the European Parliament and the Council:
- For more information, read
- Fern’s analysis of the European Parliament's rapporteur's draft position on the EU Regulation on deforestation-free products
- Fern and other NGOs' Recommendations for a smallholder-inclusive EU Regulation on deforestation-free products
- Fern and other civil society organisations'Position Statement on the Proposed Regulation on Deforestation-Free Products
- Fern’s report What can the EU Forest and Rights Observatory learn from Brazil?
- Fern’s rapid assessment of the Proposed Regulation on deforestation-free products
- Fern’s briefing paper Including smallholders in EU action to protect and restore the world’s forests
- Fern’s commodities briefings on Soy, Palm Oil, Cocoa, Beef & Rubber
- Fern's complementary FAQ: Are corporate voluntary commitments to halt deforestation working?