Press release: 17 November 2021
New EU deforestation law 'welcome, but needs muscle': ClientEarth
The European Commission’s new proposed law to halt deforestation is a welcome step forward, but does not go far enough and has too many loopholes to actually minimise the EU’s impact on nature worldwide, ClientEarth lawyers say.
The proposed law will govern how companies that sell commodities linked to deforestation and forest degradation – such as soy, palm oil and beef – must ensure they are ‘deforestation-free’ before placing them on the European market. While the Commission’s proposal is a step in the right direction, limitations around enforcement and protection of forest communities risk its effectiveness.
At COP26, the EU joined more than 100 world leaders to commit to ending deforestation by 2030. Regulating the use of products that drive deforestation is a key part of living up to this ambition.
ClientEarth Forest-risk Commodities Lawyer Michael Rice said:
“Despite months of delay, the Commission’s proposal shows that there is political will to address the EU’s deforestation footprint at home and abroad. This is a crucial step towards ensuring that the EU’s footprint on nature aligns with its climate and biodiversity commitments, and represents an overdue acknowledgement that fixing industrial agriculture is a key piece of the puzzle.
“Specifically, we are pleased to see that the Commission, after considering all perspectives, has retained a mandatory due diligence approach that requires companies to trace the products in their supply chains back to their point of origin. Companies cannot know whether their products are deforestation-free if they do not know where they come from.
“But despite some progress, the proposal needs muscle. It fails to address issues like violence against forest defenders and access to justice for victims of land-grabbing, which are essential for ensuring that EU consumption is not increasing pressure on the most vulnerable communities or our most precious ecosystems.
“The proposal also does not include any mechanism for consumers or local communities to hold companies liable if products they place on the EU market are linked to deforestation, land-grabbing or violence against forest defenders. This means companies can continue to avoid accountability for harm to Indigenous Peoples and local communities linked to their supply chains.”
The proposed law does contain some improvements on certain provisions of the EU’s existing law on illegal timber, the EU Timber Regulation, like clarifying provisions regarding complaints, penalties and compliance checks. However, the impact of these improvements will ultimately depend on the capacity and willingness of Member States to enforce the new rules.
Experience gained from the EU’s rules on illegal timber shows that when enforcement is left exclusively in the hands of Member States, results can vary wildly. This lack of consistency is harmful for forests and the market. Instead, forest defenders, local communities and civil society organisations should be able to hold companies to account – they are often the most effective watchdog, and this would give the law real teeth.
The Commission’s proposed law will now be reviewed and negotiated by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union as part of the EU’s law-making process prior to being finalised.
“We urge the European Parliament and the Council to build on the Commission’s proposal, to increase its ambition and live up to the commitments the EU set for ending deforestation in Glasgow,” said Rice.
“This new law is an unprecedented chance for the EU to lead by example. But for the law to actually curb the drivers of deforestation worldwide, it must be backed up provisions that support the rights of forest communities and Indigenous Peoples.
“The public has high expectations for this new law and must be able to monitor compliance and pursue enforcement when necessary. Otherwise the promise of a law that ‘ends deforestation’ risks being nothing less than hollow.”
Notes to editors:
- On EUTR: Some improvements in the proposal include reinforcing the obligations of operators and large traders, clarifying the complaint mechanism and strengthening the requirements for Member States to investigate potential breaches and apply appropriate penalties.
- On safeguarding rights: Worryingly, the proposal only safeguards the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to the extent they are protected under national laws of producer countries. This is a missed opportunity to strengthen internationally recognised standards and will not be enough to ensure EU companies respect human rights through their supply chains.
ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.