“The atmosphere is warming, and the climate changes from year to year. Of the eight million species on the planet, one million are at risk of extinction. We are polluting and destroying the forests and the oceans.” That’s how resounding it begins European Green Dealbase document of the environmental and climate policy of the European Commission.
Indeed, the European Union is destroying the forests. Especially those from the tropics. Due to its imports of agricultural and livestock products, the EU is one of the largest drivers of tropical deforestation in the world, second only to China.
The European Commission itself recognizes this: “The EU is responsible for 7-10% of global crop consumption and livestock products that are associated with deforestation in their countries of origin. It is also among the main importers of commodities related to deforestation, such as palm oil, soybeans, rubber, beef, corn, cocoa and coffee. Von der Leyen reiterated it in Glasgow during COP26.
This is what is known as “imported deforestation”.
The European Commission (EC) probably falls short in its estimates. The international organization WWF calculates that the EU contributed in 2017 to 16% of imported tropical deforestation worldwide and denounces that Spain is the third European country with the greatest impact in this issue.
The European Commission (EC) probably falls short in its estimates
According to this WWF report, based on an analysis of satellite images and agricultural and commercial statistics, due to its imports of soybeans, palm oil, beef, wood products, cocoa and coffee, the EU contributed indirectly in 2017 to the disappearance of 203,000 hectares of tropical forests, which became agricultural land. We are talking about a deforested area equal to twice Asturias, in a single year.
The EC proposes in the Green Deal to improve Europe’s forest area, both in quality and quantity, so that the EU achieves climate neutrality and a healthy environment. Likewise, the European Green Deal literally says: “Starting from the Communication Stepping up EU action to protect and restore the world’s forests, the Commission will take action, both regulatory and otherwise, to promote imported products and value chains that do not entail deforestation or forest degradation.”
On October 19, 2020, the Commission published its work program for 2021, which includes the preparation of a legislative proposal aimed at minimize the risk of deforestation and forest degradation associated with products marketed in the EU. Said proposal, which will be accompanied by an impact assessment, is expected to be announced on November 17.
It is great news that the European Commission is going to make a legislative proposal to break the link between the consumption of agricultural and livestock products imported by Europe and the destruction of forests throughout the world.
However, it has serious shortcomings and important leaks that would substantially and unnecessarily weaken its real impact, probably in order to favor the large industrial agriculture companies that would be affected by the law.
Although the regulations proposed by the Commission would protect parts of the Amazon forest, would allow large agricultural companies like Cargill to continue driving deforestation on a large scale right next door, in the Brazilian Cerrado savannahs, the Pantanal wetlands, and the Bolivian and Argentine forests, and export the products of that destruction to Europe.
With regard to products, the Commission’s proposal does not include leather, despite the fact that livestock is the world’s largest driver of deforestation and climate pollution within the agriculture sector. It also excludes rubber, even though rubber-producing countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam have some of the highest deforestation rates in the world. It also ignores the right of indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands.
Soya to feed chickens, pigs and cows has caused more deforestation than any other product imported into the EU between 2005 and 2017, even more than palm oil. About 70% of this destruction was concentrated in a critical biome, the Cerrado savannah in Brazil, one of the most threatened regions on the continent.
The Cerrado Ecoregion is an ecosystem of the highest value. It is the largest tropical savannah in South America and has an extremely high biodiversity: it contains about 5% of all the biodiversity on Earth and 40% of its species are endemic. More than 12,000 plant species live in the Cerrado. As for its fauna, endangered species such as the jaguar, the giant anteater, the Brazilian wolf and the marsh deer stand out.
The Cerrado is also a critical carbon sink. In its deep soil – estimated to reach depths of 25 meters or more – plants have extensive root systems. Many have twice as much biomass below ground as is seen on the surface, leading scientists to describe it as an “inverted forest.” It is estimated that it stores around 13.7 billion tons of carbon, two-thirds of which lies underground.
This important ecosystem is highly threatened. Half of its area has already disappeared to make way for soybeans and cattle, an area as large as France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands combined. Every year, some 140,000 hectares of native vegetation in the Cerrado are converted into soy. And there is no sign of the trend reversing: deforestation in the Cerrado in the first eight months of 2021 was 25% higher than in 2020.
For this reason, the Commission cannot waste any more time: it must include the protection of the Cerrado and other savannahs and wetlands in its proposal for a regulation. If it doesn’t, the EU would be leaving the door open to the biggest cause of imported deforestation: soybeans for animal feed from Brazil.
The Commission cannot waste any more time: it must include the protection of the Cerrado and other savannahs and wetlands in its regulation proposal
European consumers do not know that a significant amount of agricultural and livestock products imported by the European Union are linked to the destruction of tropical forests, savannahs and wetlands. Last year, more than a million people took part in the public consultation organized by the Commission to call for ambitious legislation to end the destruction of nature or the abuse of human rights. The Commission cannot disappoint its citizens.
Many companies, aware that their customers want products free from ecosystem transformation in agricultural fields or in grazing areas for livestock, they also support the Commission proposing ambitious regulations. In May 2021, more than 70 large companies such as supermarket chains Carrefour and Lidl, food manufacturers Danone and Ferrero, cosmetics brands L’Oreal and The Body Shop, among others, urged the EU to protect savannahs .
For its part, the European Parliament, in its resolution of 9 June 2021 on the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030, called on the Commission to urgently present a proposal for an EU legal framework based on due diligence to ensure that value chains are sustainable and that products or raw materials traded in the EU do not result from or derive from deforestation, forest degradation, conversion or degradation of ecosystems or violations from the human rights.
In summary, it is essential that the European Commission, through its legislative proposal, establish a mandatory framework that requires trading companies -and the financial institutions on which they rely- to ensure their products meet strict sustainability requirementssuch as those already mentioned by the European Parliament.
The regulation should apply to an exhaustive list of commodities at risk to forests and ecosystems, which should initially include, at a minimum, livestock products (such as beef and leather), soybeans, palm oil, wood, cocoa, coffee and rubber.
This regulation must establish transparency and traceability requirements of the supply chain, as well as a system of sanctions that are sufficiently strict to dissuade non-compliance and an effective system of checks and controls, among other control, review and complaint measures.
The European Green Deal It is a key document with which the European Commission intends to recover its commitment to citizens that the EU will respond to the challenges of the climate and the environment, which, according to the document, “constitutes the defining task of this generation”.
It would be a terrible message to the citizens if the European Union were to approve a legal regulation with big drains so that unfortunate characters like Bolsonaro together with the large landowners of Brazil, in alliance with the agribusiness lobby in the country (mainly Abiove, with the complicity of Cargill and Bunge, the world’s largest soybean traders), continue to destroy ecosystems of great value, aggravating the problem of climate change climate.
*** Carlos Bravo is representative of Mighty Earth in Spain.