EU Parliament wants to require companies to do more to protect forests

It is already too late for large parts of the rainforest, and Europe is partly to blame.
(Source: IMAGO / agefotostock)

The European Parliament wants to introduce an import ban on numerous goods if forests have been cut down for their production. On Tuesday, a large majority of MEPs voted in favor of the “Regulation on deforestation-free supply chains” and thus in favor of imposing corresponding due diligence obligations on companies.

Manufacturers worldwide will have to verify that their goods being sold in the EU have not been produced on deforested land. Consumers should be guaranteed that the products they buy have not contributed to the destruction of forests.

In addition, companies would have to prove that goods were produced in accordance with international human rights and that the rights of indigenous peoples were respected.

Worldwide, large-scale deforestation and burning is taking place to make way for the production of goods such as palm oil, soy, cocoa, coffee, meat and leather. Between 1990 and 2020, 420 million hectares of forest were lost worldwide – an area larger than the EU. EU consumption accounted for around 10 percent of this loss, according to estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Green Party MEP Anna Cavazzini said deforestation was responsible for 11 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Consumption in Europe is a major contributor to this. In addition to climate damage, human rights violations against indigenous peoples are also deplorable, she said.

Environmentalists are pleased

Deutsche Umwelthilfe praised the outcome of the vote as an “important step for forest and climate protection”. With their decision, the MEPs had fended off attempts to weaken the regulation, which included a softening of the traceability requirements or the exemption of goods such as leather.

Likewise, he said, the inclusion of the financial sector in the regulation can be chalked up as a success. “This is a strong vote to prevent financial actors from continuing to invest billions unhindered in companies linked to deforestation,” the environmental organization wrote (in German).

Greenpeace said after the vote, “No one wants their weekly shopping to be linked to massive deforestation, slash-and-burn and human rights abuses.” Today’s vote in the EU Parliament is a huge step towards preventing this, it said.

Agreement needed

For the EU rules to come into force, the EU states and parliament still have to agree on a compromise. This process often takes several months. The EU states had already agreed on their position in June.

While the states want to apply the new rules to goods such as palm oil, beef, coffee and leather, the Parliament wants to significantly expand the scope. Among other things, the law would thus also apply to pork, poultry, corn, rubber and charcoal.

Environmental organizations such as Greenpeace welcomed the planned expansion following today’s vote. Greenpeace said Germany is the main buyer of “forest risk products” such as soy, palm oil and meat within the EU. “In this trialogue, it is now up to the ministers responsible in Germany, Özdemir and Lemke, to follow the EU Parliament and push for an ambitious final regulation,” Greenpeace appealed.

There is also disagreement about the deadline when the rules should apply (retroactively). The Parliament is arguing for December 31, 2019 – one year earlier than the Commission’s proposal. After the regulation comes into force, none of the affected products would be allowed to be sold in the EU if they were produced on land that was deforested after the deadline. Checks would have to be carried out along the entire supply chain to determine whether deforestation has taken place.

Parliament also wants new requirements to apply to financial institutions; they are to be prohibited from promoting deforestation through their activities.

The law also provides for the EU Commission to categorize individual countries and parts of countries as low, normal or high risk for deforestation within six months. Depending on this, more or fewer obligations would then apply to products from these regions.

Protection of indigenous people

Before the vote, a group of indigenous people from South America had complained that the rules did not go far enough. “The definition of ‘forest’ is very reduced and excludes a good part of the Brazilian biome,” said a statement from the indigenous association Apib.

According to the Brazilian indigenous peoples, the Amazon and the Atlantic Rainforest would be the only ecosystems that the law in its current form protects from illegal logging. Only a small part of, for example, the Cerrado, which in some cases is even more threatened by deforestation and fires than the Amazon rainforest, and the Pantanal, where large-scale fires have raged in recent years, would be included.

If production in certain ecosystems is particularly controlled, activists fear environmental degradation and violence against indigenous peoples (in German) will shift to other natural areas. “Indigenous peoples, who live all over Brazil, are already suffering from the pressure of commodity production,” the statement also said. Specifically, their territories are being illegally invaded, trees are being cut down there, fires are being set, and people are being threatened and murdered.

The environmental protection organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently described indigenous peoples as the “guardians of the forest” in the fight against environmental damage and climate change. This is because indigenous lands accounted for only 1.6 percent of deforestation in Brazil between 1985 and 2020. However, the rights and interests of indigenous peoples are systematically ignored and violated (in German) in Brazil and other countries.

Amazon on the brink of collapse

In light of the increasing destruction of forests in the Brazilian Amazon, the WWF had warned of serious consequences for indigenous peoples and the global climate (in German). According to the Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE), 5463 square kilometers of forest were destroyed in the Amazon rainforest between January and August of this year. In August alone, INPE registered 33,116 fires there.

Around 20 percent of the original Amazon rainforest has already been destroyed. Scientists expect a tipping point to be passed when more than 25 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed. The forest could then turn into a steppe over an area the size of France, Spain, Sweden, Germany and Finland combined, which would have repercussions for the entire planet.

“If we lose the Amazon, we lose one of the largest carbon reservoirs on this planet,” warned WWF South America Advisor Roberto Maldonado. He said the Amazon is “closer to collapse than ever before.” (dpa / hcz)