Forestry policy was on the agenda for Europe’s agriculture ministers on Monday, which made for a heated debate since Europeans are, through their lifestyles, contributing to massive deforestation worldwide. EURACTIV France reports.
The European Green Deal unveiled with great pomp and circumstance last December includes the ambitious objective of making the EU the first climate-neutral region by 2050.
While the initiative has been welcomed, it remains to be seen how the European executive will put it into practice. Among the new measures to be adopted, one is particularly awaited: the “post-2020 EU forestry strategy” that the European Commission is expected to present by early 2021.
The EU’s agriculture ministers called on the Commission to present a “reinforced forestry strategy”, the impact of which would be felt in Europe and internationally, particularly since forestry is a cross-border issue.
In its 2020 report on the state of the world’s forests, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), points out that more than half of the world’s forests are located in just five countries: Brazil, Canada, China, the United States and Russia.
Their diversity and richness make these ecosystems highly sought-after environments. However, as the timber trade continues to boom and land is cleared for agricultural purposes, forest areas are constantly shrinking. According to FAO estimates, 10 million hectares of forest area are lost each year, an area the size of Portugal.
While tropical forests are the most threatened, the EU is responsible for almost 10% of the world’s forest destruction. Meat, dairy products, soya, rubber, and palm oil are produced at the expense of forest ecosystems.
According to the FAO, production-oriented agriculture remains one of the main causes of this phenomenon. The UN organisation estimates that between 2000 and 2010, “large-scale commercial agriculture was responsible for almost 40% of deforestation in the tropical world”, notably through livestock breeding, soya cultivation and palm oil production.
The French example
In its 2018 report, French NGO Envol vert found that the production of soy, leather, palm oil, paper, coffee, rubber, cocoa and wood are – in that order – the main sources of deforestation and that a French person would “eat” an average of 352 m2 of forest each year to meet his or her needs.
Faced with this challenge, France’s High Climate Council recently recommended that the French government accelerate the strategy to combat imported deforestation, because “while greenhouse gas emissions on the national territory are falling, imported emissions are continually increasing”, according to its latest report.
A European project
The High Climate Council is clear on this point: the fight against imported deforestation will primarily be played out at European level, and various EU bodies have started to tackle the matter. In addition to the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament called on the Commission on 22 October to present a European legal framework to stop global deforestation caused by the EU.
“No EU rules prohibit the placing on the European market of products that have contributed to the destruction of forests”, explained the Vice-President of the S&D Group and member of the Environment Committee, Eric Andrieu, in a statement. Andrieu hopes that sanctions are introduced against “companies that put products derived from raw materials that endanger forests and ecosystems on the European market.”
The ball is now in the court of the Commission, which is due to present its new EU forestry strategy shortly. For the time being, the Commission is conducting a public consultation on deforestation lasting until 10 December, which is being promoted by the #Together4Forests campaign, led by nearly 150 NGOs.
“The European Commission must propose new legislation”, said Anke Schulmeister-Oldenhove, head of forestry policy at the WWF’s European Policy Office, in an interview with EURACTIV France. “If as many people as possible respond to the consultation, the EU will have no choice but to take ambitious measures against deforestation, biodiversity degradation and for the protection of human rights,” she added.
Since the public consultation was launched on 3 September, it has received almost one million responses.