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Enormous farms are eating deep into the forests of the Mato Grosso in Brazil - and the EU is one of the main markets for the soya they produce. Photo: Leonardo F. Freitas via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
Enormous farms are eating deep into the forests of the Mato Grosso in Brazil - and the EU is one of the main markets for the soya they produce. Photo: Leonardo F. Freitas via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
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Europe must lead the way towards 'zero deforestation'

Sébastien Risso / Greenpeace Europe

11th January 2016

After years of half-hearted, ineffective polices to tackle deforestation, the EU is finally promising to take strong measures to deal with the problem, writes Sébastien Risso. Tackling illegal timber imports will be a great start, but it also needs to take on the far larger problem of deforestation for agriculture - stimulated by the EU's huge imports of palm oil, soy, beef and other commodities.

There's no time to lose. The EU must take immediate action to lead the way towards zero deforestation. It needs to guarantee that all supply chains in the EU market are free from deforestation, and cut off the money that finances forest destruction.

From the time we're in school, we are taught that forests absorb and store carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases (GHG) responsible for climate change, and that they produce and release oxygen.

Yet despite the essential role of forests - to sustain life on earth - global deforestation continues at an alarming rate. An area of forest of 14.5 million hectares per year was lost between 1990 and 2005.

This is the equivalent of losing one football-sized pitch every two seconds. Substantial areas of forests have also been degraded or fragmented, threatening their survival.

Every day, large volumes of agricultural products connected to deforestation are sold on the EU market as food products, animal feed and cosmetics. European banks and financial institutions often fund foreign projects contributing to forest loss, like the conversion of forest for palm oil or pulpwood plantations.

Shiploads of illegal timber also continue to enter the European market routinely, as exposed by a recent report which reveals how European timber traders are contributing to the destruction of the Amazon.

European leaders have repeatedly endorsed the objective of ending deforestation and reducing forest degradation by 2020. Due to their vital role in fighting climate change, protecting forests is also a key element of the Paris Agreement which emerged from the COP21 UN climate conference in Paris.

Despite Europe's good intentions, the EU's forest footprint remains significant and the EU is still doing too little to reverse global forest destruction.

So far, a half-hearted and ineffective response

Since 2003, EU efforts have focused on the implementation of the EU FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) action plan to tackle illegal logging and related trade.

Ten years later, much remains to be done, as the European Court of Auditors recently pointed out. Today, our main concerns are that:

The measures adopted by the EU action plan to address illegal logging remain relevant today and should be fully applied without delay if the EU wants to remain a credible actor in tackling global deforestation and forest degradation. The EU also needs to use its influence to persuade other key countries - China in particular - to act.

Yet existing FLEGT measures alone are not enough to reduce Europe's forest footprint and stop global deforestation.

The EU must take responsibility!

The environmental impact of the forestry sector remains significant, especially in terms of forest degradation, which is a precursor of deforestation. Today, 80% of global deforestation is caused by agriculture. The EU contributes to the problem by importing products like palm oil, beef and leather, soy and cocoa, but also timber from deforested areas.

The Commission identified this wider commodity problem in 2008. However, it took until 2013 - and the adoption of the 7th EU Environment action programme - for the EU to recognise the need for an action plan against deforestation and forest degradation.

Last November, European environment commissioner Karmenu Vella announced that the Commission was finally considering new policies against deforestation - beginning with, but not ending at, illegal timber imports.

"Illegal timber is a scourge, but isn't the only cause of deforestation", he said. "Over the coming months we will be looking more closely at other policies that might be effective against deforestation. So, all in all, next year will be an important year for the EU's timber policy. And like you, I'm looking forward to it."

Well, 2016 is now, and there's no time to lose. The EU must take immediate action if it wants to lead the way towards zero deforestation. It needs to guarantee that all supply chains in the EU market are free from deforestation, and cut off the money that finances forest destruction.

The EU should also support developing countries with increased funding to improve governance, protect forests and peatlands, uphold the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, and further expand ecological farming practices.

An increasing number of retailers, processers, producers and banks have embarked on the path towards zero deforestation. As a major trading bloc, the EU must rise to the challenge and adopt measures to speed up the transformation of the global market by 2020.

European leaders must act to silence the chainsaws and halt the bulldozers.

 


 

Sébastien Risso is the Forests Policy Director at Greenpeace EU.

This article was originally published by Greenpeace.

 

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