Members of the European Parliament will vote Tuesday (13 September) on a new regulation forcing companies to prove that their products have not contributed to the destruction of forests before they are allowed on the EU market.
The proposal, initially presented by the European Commission in November last year, aims to ensure that products and commodities imported into the EU are ‘deforestation-free’.
It would make it mandatory for companies to verify that goods sold inside the European Union have not been produced on deforested or degraded land.
The proposed regulation found general agreement among the EU’s 27 environment ministers during a meeting in June, even though NGOs criticised their position for lacking ambition.
According to data published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 420 million hectares of forest — an area larger than the EU — were lost to deforestation between 1990 and 2020. It is estimated that EU consumption represents around 10% of global deforestation.
To tackle this, MEPs in the European Parliament’s Environment Committee supported a more ambitious proposal in July, which enlarges the scope of the regulation to include more products, increases the number of checks on companies and protects more nature by including other natural ecosystems such as grasslands, peatlands and wetlands.
Additionally, companies would be responsible to verify that goods are produced respecting human rights under international law and the rights of indigenous peoples. Financial institutions too should be subject to additional requirements to ensure that their activities do not contribute to deforestation.
Environmental organisations support the Parliament’s Environment Committee proposal, which they consider more ambitious than the version supported by EU member states in June.
“The European Parliament has made the first step by proposing a draft report that is ambitious and addresses some of the loopholes that the EU member states would like to poke into the legal text,” said WWF’s Anke Schulmeister-Oldenhove.
“We are however seeing that there are attempts to weaken the report,” she added, warning: “This will come at a high cost for the environment and the fight against climate change and it is clearly not aligned with what voters wish”.
More than 1 million citizens, scientists and companies have been taking part since 2020 in the campaign #Together4Forests, led by WWF. They ask for a strong law that protects not only forests but also other ecosystems and which assures respect for the human rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.
They are also asking for a level playing field in the EU market that provides binding rules for all companies and the finance sector by ensuring full traceability of all products down to the land where they were produced or harvested.
Consumers back stronger action against deforestation
A majority of Europeans, meanwhile, seem to back stronger government action against deforestation.
This is what emerged from a new poll conducted by the market research firm GlobeScan in nine European countries – Spain, France, Germany, Czech Republic, Sweden, The Netherlands, Austria, Italy and Portugal.
According to the study, 82% of Europeans believe businesses should not sell products that destroy the world’s forests, while 78% believe it should be the governments’ responsibility to ban products that drive deforestation.
46% of those surveyed expect large companies to be the most responsible player in protecting forests, although 64% believe big businesses are performing the worst when it comes to preventing deforestation.
37% of respondents say they would be willing to turn their back on companies which sell products driving deforestation by stopping to buy from them altogether (37%), or by reducing how much they buy from them (36%).
“Once again, consumers urge companies and governments to take action against deforestation,” said David Sánchez, director of the Spanish consumer confederation CECU, commenting on the results of the poll.
“Therefore, the only option for MEPs and the national governments is to support an ambitious position on this law to ensure companies stop selling products that destroy the world’s forests.”
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]
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