EU urged to act on illegal deforestation

17th March 2015

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Monica Niermann

European businesses will not meet commitments on "zero deforestation" unless the EU takes action on illegal deforestation, campaigners have warned.

In a report published today, forestry NGO Fern claims that 2.4 million hectares of land globally was illegally cleared between 2000 and 2012 to supply the EU with beef, leather, palm oil and soy.

Almost a quarter of world trade in agricultural goods is produced on land that has been illegally cleared of forest, says the report. Fern claims a large proportion of these goods are destined for the EU, with the majority imported to the UK, Netherlands, Italy, Germany and France.

The NGO calculates that more than half of the illegal agricultural commodities that enter the EU originate in Brazil and 25% comes from Indonesia. Fern says 90% of deforestation in Brazil is illegal, while 80% of forestry clearance in Indonesia believed to be unlawful.

The scale of illegal forestry clearance to accommodate commercial agriculture is so large, at over 50% of all deforestation, that it cannot be ignored in solutions designed to tackle deforestation, Fern says.

Companies will struggle to fulfil their zero-deforestation targets in an environment of illegality and governance failure, it believes. Corruption, a lack of transparency, and unclear and conflicting regulations is already making it hard for companies to implement their promises, Fern warns.

It wants the EU to use its market strength to push for reforms in countries supplying goods to Europe to reduce illegal deforestation for agricultural purposes.

The EU’s current action plan on illegal logging, known as FLEGT, does not cover timber cut as a by-product of land cleared for agricultural commodities. Fern advises the EU to extend the FLEGT rules on land rights to cover such issues.

In December, Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder tabled a written question to the European commission calling for it to develop an action plan to tackle deforestation.

Environment commissioner Karmenu Vella replied: “The EU is strengthening its dialogue with other UNFCCC parties that have endorsed the New York declaration on forests, to help discussions on REDD+ financing in Paris COP21, later this year.

“This includes supporting deforestation-free agricultural commodities and reducing deforestation derived from other economic sectors by 2020,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has suspended 15 companies globally for not submitting annual progress reports for three consecutive years. It means the firm’s certificates and trade of certified sustainable palm oil will cease to be valid with immediate effect.

Another 62 companies have been suspended for failing to submit annual reports for two years. These include the UK’s Honeytop Speciality Foods, Samworth Brothers, Tiger Tim Products and Olympic Oils.

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