Companies selling products that are linked to deforestation, including coffee, chocolate and beef, may have to prove no forests were cut during production, according to new rules set out in a European Commission proposal.
Aimed at curbing EU- driven deforestation, the proposal targets six commodities that are often linked to deforestation: wood, cattle, soy, palm oil, cocoa and coffee.
Goods derived from these products and linked to the felling of trees would no longer be sold in the EU Member States, meaning labels on products that refer to responsible production would vanish because if they're not produced responsibly, they won't be on shelves at all.
"To succeed in the global fight against the climate and biodiversity crises, we must take the responsibility to act at home as well as abroad," said Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans.
The proposal follows the joint declaration signed at Glasgow's COP26 by 105 countries to end deforestation by 2030 and is part of the EU's ambition to realise targets set out in the European Green Deal. It was presented alongside two other measures, including rules to facilitate intra-EU waste shipments and a new Soil strategy to restore and protect European soils.
"With this proposal, the Commission has laid the groundwork for the EU to become the first region to take responsibility for its role in global deforestation," said Ester Asin, Director of WWF's European policy office, adding that it is essential that the proposal further strengthened by the support of the other institutions.
Consumers and stakeholders' request
An EU-wide survey had already shown that a majority of people agreed on the need for an EU-level intervention to reduce its contribution to global deforestation and forest degradation.
Forests still cover 30% of the planet's total land area, however, since 1990, the world has lost 420 million hectares of forest – an area larger than the European Union – mainly driven by agricultural expansion linked to these six commodities now targeted by the Commission.
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If the proposal is approved by the Council and Parliament, it will put pressure on big producers to demonstrate using geolocation systems that the land they use for their crops is not deforested from this year onwards, guaranteeing that the products bought on the EU market do not contribute to forest degradation.
Member states are expected to check that the law is being followed correctly, and according to the proposal, companies that fail to comply with the rules risks a fine of 4% of the turnover in the country where they violated the law.
Gaps in the law
The Commission hopes this proposal will prevent 71,920 hectares of forest from being affected by EU-driven deforestation by 2030 and that it will result in a reduction of "at least 31.9 million metric tons of carbon emissions every year caused by EU consumption."
It also predicts that it will have positive impacts on local communities in the future, including vulnerable indigenous people who rely heavily on forest ecosystems.
However, according to Greenpeace, the Commission has left serious gaps in the new law, as it does not require companies trading in commodities and products to observe international laws protecting the rights of Indigenous People and local communities, leaving vital ecosystems in many parts of the world vulnerable.
The text also does not include other products linked to deforestation, such as rubber, which the Green party wanted to include in the proposal.
"EU governments and the European Parliament must tighten up the law so people can be sure that what’s in their shopping basket isn’t linked to the destruction of nature or human rights abuse," Greenpeace EU agriculture and forest campaigner Sini Eräjää said, adding that the proposal also fails to address the impact of investments by the European finance sector on the world’s ecosystems.