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ClientEarth Communications

18 October 2022

Communities & forests
Forests & trade

Why the EU’s new deforestation law matters to all of us

The European Union is about to decide on a new law that could mark a turning point in the fight to protect the world’s remaining forests and avoid catastrophic climate change.

How? It will minimise the harm that EU consumption causes to forests and other valuable ecosystems around the world. It will support the countless Indigenous and local communities living in and protecting forests. And it will ensure big businesses meet their responsibility to protect people and the planet – and provide a way to hold them to account when they don’t.

Now more than ever, we need politicians and lawmakers across the political spectrum to stand up to deforestation.

We’re joining over 140 civil society organisations in reminding EU Ministers, Commissioners, and Members of the European Parliament that the world is counting on them to agree on a law that is as strong as it can be.

Here’s how they can do that.

Why does this law matter?

Forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate, with no end in sight. In 2021 alone, the world lost an area of forest bigger than the entire United Kingdom - over 25 million hectares.

Production of just a handful of products is responsible for around 90% of this devastating loss. Forests are being cleared to make way for cattle farms to supply the world with beef and leather, while the rapid development of large-scale soy – mainly grown to feed chickens and pigs – as well as palm oil, cocoa, coffee, rubber, maize, and timber plantations are destroying natural forest landscapes and woodlands.

The EU consumes a lot of these products from places like Brazil, Indonesia, and the Ivory Coast. And it does so in volumes that make it one of the biggest importers of deforestation globally, second only to China. 

EU citizens do not want to buy products driving forest and ecosystem destruction or human rights abuses. But it is currently difficult to find out whether the coffee in our cappuccinos or the beef in our burgers comes from deforested land.

This new law could end that by keeping goods that have caused nature destruction out of European shops and supermarkets altogether. It will force companies to ensure that their products are deforestation-free if they want to sell them in the EU.

And because the European bloc is the single largest market on Earth supplied by all the major traders, embedding this practice in their operations could potentially spark a deforestation-free transformation of the global food production system.    

What will this law require?

The law will require companies to check that their products bound for EU countries were produced legally and have not been produced on land that was deforested after a certain cut-off date (likely 2020).

How companies will carry out these checks – known as conducting due diligence – is a make-or-break issue for the law’s effectiveness.

In order for companies to confidently determine that their products are deforestation-free, they need to know exactly where they come from.

It is therefore essential that businesses are required to trace products back to the exact plot of land where they were produced using geo-location coordinates. 

A company could verify that its beef came from a certain district in Brazil, for example. But if it does not know the precise location, how then can it ensure the cattle were reared on land in a district that was not deforested or not grabbed from Indigenous communities?

This precise geo-location information is also necessary for authorities: they cannot take action if they don’t have a clear and detailed picture.

Enforcement is critical to how effective the law can be. Governments need to put in place a water-tight enforcement framework that imposes minimum checks on all operators, traders, and products, with dissuasive and uniform penalties for wrongdoing, to stop cases of deforestation from slipping through the cracks. 

Protecting Indigenous and forest community rights

We must not forget that, far from the store shelves, Indigenous and local forest communities are living with and fighting against the consequences of our consumption. These communities are proven to be the best protectors of our forests but are often subject to threats and violence at the hands of land grabbers.

They are often vulnerable to exploitation and attacks and denied their basic human rights. 

This law is a chance to put this straight. It must include protections for internationally recognised human rights, particularly the rights of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and environmental and human rights defenders, and the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).

And it must provide communities on the deforestation front-line with access to justice before European courts when their rights are breached. This will empower people that depend on forests to legally challenge European authorities if they fail to enforce the new legal requirements. 

What happens next?

The European Parliament, Council of the European Union, and European Commission have all settled on their respective positions on this new law, with varying degrees of ambition. 

Now, it’s crunch time. The three institutions are negotiating the final version of the law.

We are urging lawmakers to hear the voices of millions of EU citizens who have called for a strong deforestation law that keeps deforestation out of the union market. 

This is a historic opportunity to influence the fate of 80% of the world’s biodiversity and natural world, to protect all people – especially forest communities – and the planet. The EU has a chance to make a real positive difference. We cannot waste it.

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