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The European Commission adopted a comprehensive communication setting out a new framework of action to protect and restore the world’s forests.

The reinforced approach addresses both the supply and demand side of the issue. It introduces measures for enhanced international cooperation with stakeholders and member states, promotion of sustainable finance, better use of land and resources, sustainable job creation and supply chain management, along targeted research and data collection. It also launches an assessment of possible new regulatory measures to minimise the impact of EU consumption on deforestation and forest degradation.

First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development, said “Forests are the green lungs of our planet, and we must care for them in the same way we care for our own lungs. We will not meet our climate targets without protecting the world’s forests.

“The EU does not host the world’s major primary forests on its territory but our actions as individuals and our policy choices have a major impact. Today we send an important signal to our citizens and to our partners around the world that the EU is prepared to play a leadership role in this area in the next five years, and beyond.”

Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, said “The world’s forest cover continues to decrease at an alarming rate. With this communication, we are stepping up EU action to protect existing forests better and manage forests sustainably.

“When we protect existing forests and increase forest cover sustainably, we safeguard livelihoods and increase the income of local communities. Forests also represent a promising green economic sector, with the potential to create between 10 and 16 million decent jobs worldwide. This communication represents an important step forward in this regard.”

Commissioner for International Development, Neven Mimica, said “We stand ready to work with partner countries to protect and sustainably manage forests across the world. This is about food security, water, climate change, resilience and peace. It’s about building a more sustainable and inclusive world.”

The approach outlined by the EU is a response to the continued widespread destruction of the world’s forests; an area of 1.3 million square kilometres was lost between 1990 and 2016, equivalent to approximately 800 football fields every hour. The main drivers of this deforestation are demand for food, feed, biofuel, timber and other agricultural commodities, including cocoa.

The communication has a two-fold objective of protecting and improving the health of existing forests, especially primary forests, and significantly increasing sustainable, biodiverse forest coverage worldwide. The Commission has set out five priorities:

  • Reduce the EU consumption footprint on land and encourage the consumption of products from deforestation-free supply chains in the EU
  • Work in partnership with producing countries to reduce pressures on forests and to ‘deforest-proof’ EU development cooperation
  • Strengthen international cooperation to halt deforestation and forest degradation, and encourage forest restoration
  • Redirect finance to support more sustainable land-use practices
  • Support the availability of, quality of, and access to information on forests and commodity supply chains, and support research and innovation.

The Commission will work closely with partner countries to help them to reduce pressures on their forests and will ensure that EU policies do not contribute to deforestation and forest degradation. It will help partners develop and implement comprehensive national frameworks on forests, enhancing the sustainable use of forests, and increasing the sustainability of forest-based value chains.

The Commission will also work through international fora – such as the FAO, the UN, the G7 and G20, the WTO and the OECD – to strengthen cooperation on actions and policies in this field. The Commission will continue to ensure that trade agreements negotiated by the EU contribute to the responsible and sustainable management of global supply chains and encourage trade of agricultural and forest-based products not causing deforestation or forest degradation. The Commission will also develop incentive mechanisms for smallholder farmers to maintain and enhance ecosystem services and embrace sustainable agriculture and forest management.

To improve the availability and quality of information, and access to information on forests and supply chains, the Commission proposes the creation of an EU Observatory on Deforestation and Forest Degradation, to monitor and measure changes in the world’s forest cover and associated drivers. This resource will give public bodies, consumers and businesses better access to information about supply chains, encouraging them to become more sustainable. The Commission will also explore the possibility of strengthening the use of the Copernicus satellite system for forest monitoring.

Forests and rights NGO Fern welcomed the long-awaited move “with cautious optimism” and said it looks forward to working with the next European Commission on developing such a regulation, provided it pays equal attention to human rights. Fern said it believes actions, not words, will determine whether the EU is serious about tackling the impact it has on forests, and the millions of people that directly depend on them.

Responding to the communication, forests and rights NGO Fern said, “The Commission has finally opened the door to regulating the EU’s imports of commodities like palm oil, beef, soy and cocoa, which are the main drivers of worldwide deforestation and heavily associated with human rights abuses.”

“Our message to Ursula von der Leyen, the new EU Commission President, is that we desperately need new laws that require companies to demonstrate that goods they put on the EU market are not tainted with deforestation or human rights abuses,” said Hannah Mowat, campaigns coordinator at Fern.

“Agricultural deforestation happens because of increased global demand for agricultural commodities, notably due to the EU’s demand, national policies that aim to meet and stimulate that demand, and trade and finance policies that facilitate their sale and transport.”

Fern’s cautious optimism was mirrored by civil society in Ghana, where deforestation increased by an astonishing 60 per cent in 2018, driven largely by the production of cocoa, much of which is destined for the EU, the world’s largest importer, processor and consumer of the commodities.

“Addressing deforestation is not possible without addressing the EU’s demand for the goods which drive it. But it also requires getting to the root cause of forest loss in forested countries,” said Obed Owusu-Addai, campaigner at EcoCare, a Ghanaian rights-based campaign and advocacy NGO, which focusses on community rights and forests.

“We therefore welcome that the Commission is prioritising working in partnership with producing countries to reduce pressures on forests and deforestation. As  it did in fighting illegal timber, the EU must use its market leverage to start discussions in producer countries about forest governance and concession allocation.”

“This Communication recognises that trade with highly forested countries can have a negative impact on forests. We therefore welcome the proposals to include specific provisions to ensure the trade in agricultural commodities doesn’t lead to deforestation and forest degradation, provided they are legally binding and enforceable. Unfortunately, the recent Mercosur Agreement lacks any specific provisions in this regard, and hence we call on it to be rejected,” Mowat concluded.

Rainforest Alliance welcomed the renewed commitment from the EU to reduce deforestation and forest degradation, as stated in the communication.

“As one of the most active consumer zones in the world responsible for about 10 per cent of the global impact on tropical forests, the EU is on the right track to halt deforestation through political, financial, and technical support for tropical forested countries. It is the right and just thing to do, and the EU is correct in their assessment that ‘This is not somebody else’s problem,’” Rainforest Alliance told C&CI.

“This is an important step, but it is only one step towards the comprehensive action we need to see,” said Han de Groot, CEO of the Rainforest Alliance. “The EU must energize and empower its constituents to translate these commitments into concrete action. No less than the fate of the world’s forests is at stake.”

“Deforestation and forest degradation are driven, at least in part, by consumption habits in developed countries, many of which are in the EU,” said Henriette Walz, Deforestation Lead for the Rainforest Alliance.

“The EU correctly identifies changing agricultural consumption patterns and partnering with producing countries to improve forest governance as tackling the root caused to deforestation. Both transparency on voluntary no-deforestation commitments and exploring regulatory measures are key steps to driving out deforestation from the EU imports by 2030. The Rainforest Alliance is ready to assist companies and government in making their commitments a reality.”

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