EU agrees a ‘world first’ ban on products contributing to global deforestation

Large area of cleared forest with dumper trucks in the fore ground.
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The European Union (EU) reached an agreement on 6 November to ban the import of products including coffee, cocoa and soy in cases where they’re deemed to contribute to deforestation.

The draft law, which aims to ensure “deforestation-free supply chains” for the 27-nation EU, was hailed by environmental groups as “groundbreaking”. The scope encompasses palm oil, cattle, soy, coffee, cocoa, timber, and rubber as well as derived products such as beef, furniture, and chocolate.

Everyday items

Illegal production has spurred mass deforestation in countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Mexico, and Guatemala. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that an aggregate area of land bigger than the EU, or some 420 million hectares (more than one billion acres), has been deforested around the world over the past three decades. The EU is the second-biggest market for consumption of the targeted products after China.

Pascal Canfin, chairman of the European Parliament’s environment committee, hailed the agreement, and how its impact would feed through to everyday items Europeans consume:

It’s the coffee we have for breakfast, the chocolate we eat, the coal in our barbecues, the paper in our books. This is radical.

The agreement requires companies importing into the EU to guarantee that products aren’t produced on land that suffered deforestation after 31 December 2020, and that they comply with all laws of the source country.

Historic first

The environmental lobby group Greenpeace called the draft law, agreed between the European Parliament and EU member states, “a major breakthrough”.  Another, WWF, called it “groundbreaking” and “historic”, going on to say that:

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This regulation is the first in the world to tackle global deforestation and will significantly reduce the EU’s footprint on nature

Both groups called on the EU to go further by expanding the scope of the law to include savannahs, such as Brazil’s Cerrado, which are also under threat by encroaching ranchers and farmers. Greenpeace noted that financial institutions extending services to importing companies would not initially come under the new law, but they would come under review two years later.

Both the European Council – representing the EU countries – and the European Parliament now have to officially adopt the agreed law. Big companies would have 18 months to comply, while smaller ones would get a longer grace period.

In a statement, the European Commission said:

The new law will ensure that a set of key goods placed on the (European Union) market will no longer contribute to deforestation and forest degradation in the EU and elsewhere in the world

As the Canary reported in October, governments globally must act on deforestation immediately in order to reach an agreed goal to stop the practice by 2030. The UK government is yet to discuss similar legislation.

Expanding scope

The European Parliament said in a statement that the law opened the way for technology such as satellite monitoring and DNA analysis to verify the origins of targeted imports. 9% of products sent to the EU from high-risk countries would be checked, while lower proportions of products from low risk countries will be scrutinised. Companies found violating the law could be fined up to 4% of annual turnover in the EU.

The legislation will be reviewed one year after coming into force, to see whether it should be extended to other wooded land. Another review at the two-year mark would have the commission considering whether to expand it to cover other ecosystems and commodities, as well as financial institutions.

Featured image via IndoMet in the Heart of Borneo/Flickr

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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