Amazon threatened by UK's proposed anti-deforestation law

26th August 2021

Over two million hectares of Brazilian rainforest could be legally converted to supply the UK with soy under a new anti-deforestation law proposed by the government, the WWF has found.

The UK government's flagship Environment Bill includes plans to force large companies to carry out due diligence checks to ensure there is no illegal deforestation for commodities in their supply chains.

However, a new report from the WWF warns that the proposed measures will still allow products that result from legal deforestation, or devastating change to other natural ecosystems, to be sold in Britain.

Spatial analysis of the areas in Brazil that supply soy directly to the UK show that over 2.1 million hectares of natural vegetation – an area equivalent to just over the size of Wales – could potentially be legally converted under the law.

Furthermore, complex legal frameworks in producer countries and limited data transparency make it difficult to determine whether deforestation has taken place legally or not.

This could make the proposed UK due diligence regulation extremely difficult for companies to comply with, and for the government to enforce in practice.

Ahead of the Environment Bill returning to the House of Lords in early September, the WWF is calling on the government to expand the scope of the new legislation to eliminate all deforestation and land conversion – legal and illegal – from UK supply chains.

“The law proposed by the UK government to stop deforestation isn’t yet robust enough and must be strengthened if it is to prevent further destruction of natural ecosystems – whether legal or illegal,” said Katie White, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at the WWF

“This must sit alongside a legally-binding target to slash the UK’s global environmental footprint by 2030.

“Nature is our ally in the fight against climate change. To protect it, we must drastically reduce the UK’s global environmental footprint, not least by ensuring we aren’t adding to the destruction of precious habitats like the Amazon and Cerrado.”

Under the most likely scenario, the report estimates that UK imports of soy from Brazil between 2021 and 2030 would directly result in the conversion of 36-59,000 hectares of the 2.1 million hectares at risk, over 70% of which could be done legally.

The report also shows that narrowly focusing legislation on forest habitats, rather than all natural ecosystems, such as savannahs, leaves 5% of the world’s biodiversity, including over 12,000 plant species, 856 species of birds and 466 species of reptiles and amphibians, at risk.

In addition to strengthening legislation in the UK, the WWF highlights the responsibility of companies to deliver on their policies and commitments to eliminate all deforestation and ecosystem conversion and human rights abuses, across their entire supply chains.

At the same time, the conservation organisation is calling on financial institutions to adopt rigorous screening and monitoring processes to ensure that lending and investment do not contribute to environmental damage.

It said that, as president of COP26, and convenor of the Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) Dialogue, the UK has an opportunity to demonstrate environmental leadership and bring other nations along towards transformative solutions to halt deforestation and land conversion.

White added: “Ministers have promised to protect nature and ensure a safe climate for future generations – we won’t forget should they fail to deliver.”

Image credit: Shutterstock

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