Strong welcome for EU deforestation action

Photo: Mark van Benthem, Probos

EU proposals for new measures to combat tropical deforestation, and particularly to control forest conversion to agriculture have been backed by the timber sector, NGOs and other stakeholders. Some actually urge it to go further than the steps put forward.

An EU roadmap, ‘Deforestation and forest degradation – stepping up EU action’, was put out for feedback at the start of the year. The goal, it stated, was to develop ‘an integrated EU approach to combat deforestation, protect forests and promote sustainable supply chains’.

“Deforestation is a major global problem, leading to biodiversity loss, climate change and poverty,” said the roadmap summary. “The causes are many and complex, though increased production of commodities, such as soy, beef, palm oil, coffee, and cocoa, drives almost 80% of all deforestation.”

Possible EU actions include building partnerships with producer countries to support uptake of sustainable agriculture and forestry and reduce pressure on forests. Another goal is to back creation of sustainable and transparent supply chains for sustainably produced commodities.

New partnerships with other major consumer countries are proposed, plus steps to better implement and communicate existing EU actions on deforestation.

Responding to consultation on the Roadmap, which closed in January, Netherlands timber sector research and communications hub Centrum Hout backed EU proposals. “Our efforts to support sustainable forest management should not be frustrated by import of [other] forest risk commodities that cause deforestation,” it stated. “It would also be very helpful to have policies and tools that not only stop deforestation and forest degradation, but support sustainable forest management.”

John Hontelez for the Forest Stewardship Council urged two actions from the EU. The first was to put pressure on EU importing companies to work with credible certification schemes that incorporate robust environmental and social requirements and have effective verification tools. “This pressure can start with public procurement requirements,” he said. The FSC also recommended fiscal incentives for adoption of certification, including via harvesting, concession or export fees, or VAT.

In response to the wider consultation from January through February on EU proposals, the WWF said current EU anti-deforestation policies were inadequate and among other tropical forest products it cited wooden goods as a key risk commodity where action was needed to curb forest degradation impacts. It also stressed that any EU action plan should be underpinned with legislation. That included in terms of ensuring transparency to identify investment linked to deforestation. “There should be action in the EU as well as producer countries to address drivers of deforestation and conversion which should combine voluntary with binding measures,” said the WWF.

The Environmental Investigation Agency also welcomed the roadmap and consultation, but expressed concern at its statement that any initiative would be “non-legislative”. Fellow NGO Fern picked up the same theme.

The UK Timber Trade Federation backed the EU proposals and the fact that it concentrated on agricultural commodities, notably palm oil and soya the ‘real forest risk commodities’. But it felt it could do more.

“In the EU Timber and FLEGT regulations it has regulatory systems that work. By blocking illegal timber’s access to the EU market they effect industry change,” said TTF Managing Director David Hopkins. “The EU should now impose similar regulatory controls, with mandatory due diligence, on these other commodities.”

The European woodworking industries Confederation CEI-Bois also backed the EU’s focus on non-forest products.

Following its consultation, the EU said it would issue a communication on its deforestation proposals in the second quarter of 2019.