The EU’s imports of agricultural and agroforestry commodities resulted in 3.5 million ha of deforestation between 2005 and 2017. This generated 1.8 billion tons of CO2 and placed it second only to China in terms of its trade causing forest loss. These are among headline figures of a new report from the WWF, ‘Stepping Up? The continuing impact of EU consumption on nature worldwide’. Its core conclusion is that further demand-side legislation is needed to ensure that EU commodity supply chains are deforestation-free and that EU consumption is transparently sustainable.
Voluntary sustainability certification of forest management and forest risk commodities and current EU regulation requiring due diligence to ensure imported wood products are legal in supplier countries, says WWF, are not enough alone to halt deforestation. “Importing countries must also take responsibility for the impacts of their use and consumption,” it states. At the same time, however, the latest study from IDH, ‘Understanding sustainable secondary tropical wood products through data’, concludes that if EU 27 and UK imports of these products were 100% certified sustainable, it would have a major benefit in terms of incentivizing forest maintenance and cutting CO2 emissions.
The WWF report takes its title from the EC’s 2019 adoption of the ‘Communication on stepping up EU action to protect and restore the world’s forests’. This pledges the EU to assess measures to reduce the environmental footprint of its consumption, including through new legislation to ensure deforestation-free supply chains. The commitment was confirmed in the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and Farm to Fork Strategy. The WWF report is aimed at encouraging and backing the EU in developing such measures. It maintains that between 2005 and 2017 31% of tropical deforestation ‘embedded in EU imports’ was concentrated in soy, accounting for 89,000 ha of forest loss a year. Palm oil followed at 24%, beef 10%, wood products 8%, cocoa 6% and coffee 5%.
Current EU measures to tackle illegal timber trade are of value, says the WWF, but limited in effect by the fact that a large degree of deforestation is considered legal under tropical supplier countries’ laws. The WWF also says that, in some cases, third party certification schemes have resulted in lower forest loss, but that ‘market uptake is limited and uneven’. The way forward, it maintains, must be new EU supply-side regulation that ensures:
– Products and commodities placed on the EU market are sustainable instead of only considered ‘legal’ according to the country of origin.
– Mandatory requirements are introduced for businesses and the finance sector compelling them to undertake due diligence and to ensure traceability of commodities and supply chain transparency.
The latest IDH report mentioned above looks at environmental positives of EU and UK imports of certified sustainable tropical wood products. It calculates that currently 25-32% of primary and 29%-37% of secondary tropical timber imports are exposed to certification. If imports were 100% certified sustainable, it would positively impact over 18 mill ha semi and natural tropical forests and reduce CO2 emissions by at least 100 million metric tons. “These figures illustrate the necessity of a new way forward, and demand action by all actors to grow demand for verified sustainable tropical timber,” concludes the report.