EU urged to do more to protect forests

Consumption habits and international trade threaten forests [2seven9/Shutterstock]

Forest nations are calling on the EU to strengthen the control of supply chains for products causing deforestation such as palm oil or cocoa. EURACTIV.fr reports

On 15 February, 14 indigenous leaders and human rights defenders from forest countries were gathered in Amsterdam for the publication of a report on deforestation and rights violations.

The report published by NGO Forest Peoples Programme highlights the multiple dangers generated by international trade on forests and their inhabitants.

Following a three-day forum on sustainable trade, indigenous and human rights and deforestation, the delegation of 11 forest nations warned the EU and its member states that the global trading system – in violation of the commitments made at both ends of the supply chain – continues to produce and sell goods that “are destroying the lives and livelihoods of forest peoples in forest countries”.

The delegation was made up of representatives from Colombia, Peru, Paraguay, Guyana, Suriname, Argentina, Liberia, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The representatives stated that in their countries “our peoples are under increasing pressure; are being driven from their territories and abused and murdered by the henchman of international commercial interests.”

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), 8.8 million hectares of natural forests have been lost every year between 2010 and 2015, a total area roughly equivalent to that of Sweden.

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The European Court of Justice has confirmed that the logging of ancient woodland in Poland infringes EU law, paving the way for penalties against Warsaw and prolonging its spat with Brussels.

Palm oil

Palm oil production will reach unprecedented levels in 2018. The oil, particularly used in biofuel production, is heavily criticised by many who oppose the use of a food crop as fuel and its significant impact on forest cultivation.

In countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, palm oil represents an important share of exports. And it accounts for a substantially increasing proportion of exports in Latin America, especially Brazil, and in Africa.

The production of palm oil leads to intensive deforestation, with dramatic consequences on climate change, wildlife protection and the rights of local populations, who are too often expelled or fall victim to violence if they oppose the commercial interests of large corporations.

The European Parliament recently decided to ban the use of palm oil in transport fuels. This decision was challenged by exporting countries who threatened to refer the case to the WTO.

EU Parliament ends palm oil and caps crop-based biofuels at 2017 levels

The European Parliament decided today (17 January) to phase-out palm oil by 2021 and cap the crop-based biofuels at the 2017 member states’ consumption levels and no more than 7% of all transport fuels until 2030.

According to a recent study by Rainforest Foundation Norway, without this ban meeting the additional demand would lead to “an additional 4.5 million hectares of deforestation. That’s an area the size of the Netherlands.”

“The answer is for the EU and member states to put in place binding regulations and to strengthen voluntary commodity certification schemes to better protect communities and forests impacted by agribusiness development and trade in conflict commodities,” said Mina Bayan of the Social Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development (SESDev) from Liberia.

Forests decimated by cocoa farming in Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d’Ivoire’s brown gold has gradually destroyed the country’s national parks and protected forests. At the same time, suspicions of corruption are tainting the authorities’ attempts to curb rampant deforestation.

Still waiting for Europe’s action plan

At a time when the EU is negotiating trading agreements with a whole series of countries, there are increasing calls for a review of EU trade policy, with a view to bringing it more closely in line with the bloc’s climate change and human rights commitments.

The Commission is also due to announce in the next few weeks whether or not it will draw up an action plan on deforestation. This is “crucial” for Greenpeace.

The decision has also been long coming. The EU Council and Parliament called for an action plan in 2013 and MEPs had to call the European Commission to task on this matter at the beginning of 2017.

A feasibility study is said to have been completed but it has not yet been published, despite calls by NGOs and even certain member states, such as Germany, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the UK, which decided in 2015 to work towards “eliminating deforestation from the agricultural supply chains of European countries”.

A source within the Commission, however, told EURACTIV that an action plan is unlikely this year.

Calls grow for ‘green clause’ in EU trade deals

There is widespread consensus on the need to level the playing field for European companies confronted with environmental and social dumping from foreign competitors. Just how hard the EU should hit on wrongdoers remains a major sticking point, however.

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