Deforestation, the first images that jump to mind are the Amazonian forest burning, desolate desert, and native animal populations being pushed out of their habitat. All of these things also seem very far away, remote, and outside of our sphere of influence. When thinking about deforestation, one does not necessarily associate it with our everyday lives, however, the products that we consume on a daily basis such as Coffee, Cocoa, Palm Oil, Beef, Soy, and even, you guessed it, Wood, are sometimes the main contributors to deforestation.
Define Forest Degradation
Let's start at the beginning. What is deforestation and how will the EU regulation help prevent it.
As you all might know, deforestation is the purposeful clearing of forested land. Forests are razed to make space for agriculture and animal grazing, and to obtain wood for fuel, manufacturing and construction (1). Deforestation is a major issue as tropical rainforests are burnt down to create parcels of land to be fertilized by the ashes. However, this land is only fertile for a short period of time and, in order to produce more, the process begins again. Forests are cleared out to make way for logging, cattle, and oil and palm and rubber plantations.
While many see the obvious reasons why deforestation is an issue, it is still important to highlight them. Not only does deforestation contribute to the release of carbon dioxide as it is burnt down, but it also limits its capacity to reduce the GHG emissions as there is a smaller quantity of trees available to photosynthesis, accelerating global warming. Furthermore, biodiversity is threatened, as native animal and plant species are pushed out or eliminated from their natural habitat. As the land is emptied of flora and fauna, the soil is exposed to erosion which might lead to desertification (2).
EU and Deforestation
Now, the question begs to be asked, how is this problem related to the EU?
While the European market might not be directly responsible for the cutting down of forests, it does consume many of the products that contribute to deforestation. Production of Coffee, Cocoa, Palm Oil, Beef, Soy, and Wood, are the reason behind deforestation, and as the European markets continue to consume these products, the forest will continue to suffer in order to supply that demand. This is where the EU Deforestation Regulation comes into play. The European Union aims to stop driving the deforestation and degradation of forests across the world (3). As stated on the official website “Deforestation is the main driver of climate change and biodiversity loss, and the EU contributes to it by consuming a significant share of products associated with deforestation. The EU, therefore, has the responsibility to contribute to ending it.” (4)
The objective of the Deforestation Regulation is to address all deforestation driven by agricultural expansion to produce commodities - in this case, the regulation looks at the production of Coffee, Cocoa, Palm Oil, Beef, Soy, and Wood. Also, the regulation aims at reducing carbon emissions caused by EU consumption and production of said commodities, and guarantee to EU citizens that the listed products they buy, use and consume do not contribute to global deforestation and degradation.
How will this work?
While we can all align under these objectives, the question is now, how will this work?
In order to be compliant with the regulation, companies must confirm to national authorities that the products they place on the EU market follow EU rules. For this, companies must collect all relevant information regarding the commodities to ensure that they have not been produced on land deforested or degraded after the 31st of December 2020. Due diligence has then become mandatory, as companies must analyze and evaluate risks across their value chain and take adequate mitigating measures to check that the origin of their products does not contribute to deforestation.
In turn, member countries of the European Union must carry out inspections of the products, report to the Commission and react to non-compliant products by not allowing products which are non-negligible to deforestation within their markets.
We must now look to another important and key factor in all of this: the producing countries. The economies, both formal and informal, rely heavily on the consumption of the EU market, and, in order to foster an effective policy, producing countries will also have to change their practices. The regulation includes at this point a section dedicated to the producing countries and the need for them to improve forest governance and create socio-economic opportunities. As such, these countries could benefit from EU support and funding to adapt their measures and practices and redirect finance to support more sustainable land-use practices. The aim is to then create partnerships with producer countries in order to reduce the pressure on forests, strengthen international cooperation to halt deforestation and encourage forest restoration.