EU Action Against Deforestation & Its Worldwide Impact

by Gabriela Troncoso Alarcón 05 Sep. 2019

Overshoot Day occurred on July 29,this year—the earliest date ever [1].

The Earth Overshoot Day is calculated based on the time that it will take the earth to regenerate the resources resources used in one year by humanity.   

It is concerning that the world Overshoot Day has moved two months in the last twenty years. The fact that we consume more resources than can be regenerated in a year is tragic; because of this, we have deforestation, soil erosion, biodiversity loss and climate change[2].

Particularly, forests play an important role in mitigation and adaptation solutions for climate change[3]. This why I think is a good initiative from the European Commission to take action in order to complement the efforts already in place and explore and put in place improvements to protect forests not only at EU level but worldwide.

Deforestation

Deforestation is the permanent destruction of forests in order to change the land use for agricultural, residential, or commercial purposes among others[4].

According to the Commission's communication issued on Jul 23, 2019, 1.3 million square meters of forest were lost between 1990 and 2016. This was a fast paced deforestation. However, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the pace has slowed in recent years[5].

One of the main issues is that forested areas are cleared to accommodate agricultural uses, which usually demand more from the land and make use of other resources. The need for more agricultural land use responds to the food demand that we generate and brings the question "is it fair to use more resources than those that the land can generate?”

Once the forests are cleared, the biodiversity there changes or is lost—this causes other problems, such as the extinction of certain species.

Approximately 500 species have gone extinct since 1990[6]; we are going through one of the worst extinction waves by losing 1,000 times the background rate of 1 to 5 species per year in natural extinctions[7].

EU Action

The communication from the Commission has called for action for the next political leadership of the Commission and asks for the cooperation of the other EU institutions on the protection and restoration of world's forests.

The current relevant EU framework addressing the protection of forest in direct or indirect manner, includes, among others:

  • EU Timber Regulation 995/2010 laying down the obligations of operators who place timber and timber products on the market
  • EU Directive 2018/2001 on the promotion of use of energy from renewable sources
  • EU Regulation 1169/2011 on providing information on food to consumers

The Commission has identified a need to adapt the current framework in place and o explore other alternatives to be able to achieve the goal to reduce gross tropical deforestation by 50 percent by 2020[8]; otherwise the goal will not be met.

The Commission has identified five main priorities:

  1. Reduce the EU consumption footprint on land and encourage the consumption of products from deforestation-free supply chains in the EU
  2. Work in partnership with producing countries to reduce pressures on forests and to “deforest-proof” EU development cooperation
  3. Strengthen international cooperation to halt deforestation and forest degradation, and encourage forest restoration
  4. Redirect finance to support more sustainable land-use practices
  5. Support the availability of, quality of, and access to information on forests and commodity supply chains and support research and innovation

Regarding first priority, the EU has started to address the risks of deforestation arising from the raise in demand of biofuels.

It is also foreseen that the government will encourage certification schemes for deforestation-free products and explore legislative measures on the demand of such products.

I would like to highlight the benefits and disadvantages of certification schemes. The benefits include is that it will be easier for consumers, manufacturers and retailers to identify products that are deforestation-free.

On the other hand, certification can be used to hinder the participation of certain economic actors. Since independent monitoring is necessary, it is also important to highlight that there will be additional costs, which in certain cases are transferred to the consumer. Special attention has to be put as to concisely defining the objectives of the certification, developing a monitoring criteria and ensuring the verifying bodies do not lower the bar when inspecting[9].

Another, main priority that I would like to discuss in line with sustainability and the increased interest in the sustainable investment is the priority to "redirect finance to support more sustainable land-use practices." The Commission recognizes that public investment is necessary to protect the forests but counter-productive incentives and subsidies on agriculture must be reduced.

The Commission wants to direct efforts to attract private investment into deforestation-free activities. In this regard, the EU Action Plan on Financing Sustainable Growth envisages a Taxonomy to identify the activities that can be considered as sustainable. There are a few proposals issued during May 2018 by the Commission derived from the EU Action Plan on Financing Sustainable Growth. Among the proposal are:

  • Proposal for a Regulation on the establishment of a framework to facilitate sustainable investment - under which the taxonomy on what activities would be considered as environmentally sustainable be developed
  • Proposal for a Regulation on disclosures relating to sustainable investment and sustainability risks amending Directive (EU) 2016/2341 - introduces disclosure obligations on how institutional investors and asset managers would have to integrate environmental, social, and governance factors in their risk processes
  • Proposal for a regulation amending the benchmark regulation - this would create a new category of benchmarks comprising low-carbon and positive carbon impact benchmarks, which would provide investors with information on the carbon footprint of their investments. This would also prevent misleading investors with falsely or unsubstantiated claims about the environmental benefits of a benchmark.

It is important to mention that back in February 2019, it was announced the political agreement from the European Parliament and the Member States with regards to the benchmark regulation proposal.

In addition, the directive on non-financial disclosure will be subject to a fitness check soon and where appropriate it will be amended to require the disclosure of information of the impacts of the company's activities on deforestation and degradation of forests[10]

Conclusion

Our forests need to be protected in a more efficient manner. Although actions are in place and the deforestation rates have reportedly decreased, other sources indicate that we need to stop consuming the way we do since the resources cannot be regenerated.

When one thinks that the forests are the house of thousand of species, that forests help in absorbing carbon dioxide, and that are one of the best solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change, we should protect them as a treasure given by the planet. We should on protecting primary forests and not only focus on reforesting or afforesting. Replacing something lost does not mean that it will have equal benefits to what was lost.

I am glad to see that some further action is taken to tackle this issue, which has not received so much attention in my point of view as climate change has. Whereas, if deforestation issues had been tackled before, we could probably be in a different situation.

Integrating different criteria to tackle deforestation problem from the root by addressing the main source, which is the investment in certain activities that endanger the forests directly or indirectly, is a smart move from the Commission.

With all the increased attention to sustainability and with the EU collaborating with international organizations to bring attention to the topic, companies can expect more regulations not only at EU level, but globally to address a sustainable management of forests.  


[1] Global Footprint Network 2019, Global Footprint Network promotes real-world solutions that #MoveThe date, accelerating the transition to one-planet prosperity, accessed 1 August 2019 <https://www.footprintnetwork.org/2019/07/23/press-release-july-2019/>

[2] ibid.

[3] UN News 2019, Ensuring the ' lungs of the planet' keep us alive: 5 things you need to know about forests and the UN, United Nations, accessed 1 August 2019 < https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/05/1038291>

[4] Bradford, Alina 2018, Deforestation: Facts, Causes & Effects, Live Science, accessed 1 August 2019 <https://www.livescience.com/27692-deforestation.html>

[5] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2018 The State of the World's Forest, accessed 1 August 2019 < http://www.fao.org/state-of-forests/en/>

[6] Mccaffery, J and Nargi, L (n. d.), 14 Facts About Animals that have gone extinct in the last 100 years, Reader's Digest, accessed on 1 August 2019 <https://www.rd.com/culture/animals-extinct-last-100-years/>

[7] Center for Biological Diversity (n. d), The Extinction Crisis, accessed on 1 August 2019 <https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/elements_of_biodiversity/extinction_crisis/>

[8] European Union: European Commission, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on Stepping up EU Action to Protect the World's Forests, 23 July 2019. COM(2019) 352 final, available at: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/communication-eu-action-protect-restore-forests_en.pdf


[9] Hepburn, Glen. " Alternatives to Traditional Regulation." OEDC Report, pages 39-48. Accessed 1 August 2019. <https://www.oecd.org/gov/regulatory-policy/42245468.pdf>

[10] European Union: European Commission, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on Stepping up EU Action to Protect the World's Forests, 23 July 2019. COM(2019) 352 final, available at: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/communication-eu-action-protect-restore-forests_en.pdf