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Final agreement on EU deforestation law draws near

A world first, new legislation on deforestation-free products could be a game-changer.

What’s happening?
On Monday 5 December, the European Parliament, Commission and Council are set to reach a political agreement on a new EU regulation on deforestation-free products. This landmark law would ensure that only genuinely sustainable products enter the EU market, with significant implications for the environment and people beyond the EU. How effectively this law tackles EU-driven deforestation, will depend on its level of ambition.

As it stands, there are some contentious issues on the negotiating table which would weaken the legislation. These include limiting the scope of the law to forests only (thereby excluding other wooded lands like savannahs), omitting crucial human rights provisions and reducing the number of checks and controls for Member States.

Why does this matter?
A world first, the new deforestation law could be a game-changer in the EU’s objective to reduce its environmental footprint on other regions of the world. 

The EU is a major international trading bloc that imports many commodities and products, including soy, beef, palm oil and cocoa, often grown on newly-deforested lands. The EU is the second largest importer of tropical deforestation and associated emissions. Between 2005-2017, EU imports caused 3.5 million hectares of deforestation, emitting 1,807 million tonnes of CO2. In addition, EU consumption is driving the conversion of other natural ecosystems, including the Brazilian savannah of the Cerrado. 

In order to address the EU’s footprint on nature destruction, the European Commission presented a legislative proposal for an EU deforestation law in November 2021. At the beginning of the summer, the position of the EU Member States agreed in Council left this law with more holes than a Swiss cheese. However, the European Parliament’s plenary vote supported a more ambitious text, covering other wooded land in addition to forests, and increasing the number of checks for companies, also better protecting the rights of indigenous and local peoples. 

Throughout this time, 1.2 million citizens, scientists, companies, children and famous artists have been urging decision-makers to raise the level of ambition to effectively curb the EU’s footprint on nature destruction. 

Anke Schulmeister – Oldenhove, Senior Forest Policy Officer at WWF’s European Policy Office, said: “The Czech presidency needs to make sure that the final outcome of trilogue negotiations is not just a monologue: the final text should not be a reflection of the Council position with all its loopholes, but integrate the Parliament’s progressive views on the Commission’s proposal. The support for this law by all sorts of stakeholders expressed through letters, street actions, and hundreds of thousands of personalised messages by citizens cannot be ignored by the negotiators.”

What does WWF want?
EU decision-makers should consider the following elements:
  • Protect not only forests, but also other wooded land. Extending the scope of the law beyond forests from the outset would ensure the protection of equally important ecosystems, such as 70% of the Brazilian savannah of the Cerrado - currently a cradle of soybean cultivation. If the EU regulation excludes other wooded land, companies operating in forests and supplying to the EU market will simply move their business to other biodiversity hotspots. And rather than ending deforestation, this law will only succeed in protecting one ecosystem at the expense of others.
  • Cover all relevant products and commodities that risk being linked to nature destruction - even those that account for a smaller fraction of deforestation, such as rubber and maize. This law should also close existing loopholes under the EU Timber Regulation by enlarging the scope to printed products such as books, as well as tools and charcoal.
  • Ensure products placed on the market are not linked to human rights violations. Legislation must include provisions that are reflected in international human rights conventions to protect Indigenous peoples and local communities, including the respect for customary tenure rights and the right to Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC).
  • Impose swift and strong enforcement measures for Member States. A law is only as good as its implementation. This legislation must ensure strong penalties and clear rules for controls and monitoring. There should be minimum percentages for checks, no matter whether a product comes from a country with low risk of producing deforestation-free commodities. Competent authorities should take action in case of non-compliance, going beyond a “warning letter” - not following the rules must have consequences.
"By also covering savannahs, this legislation will more efficiently tackle the impact of EU consumption on nature. Postponing the decision until another review is  carried out will mean that we will continue to witness the destruction of these ecosystems at a breathtaking speed. The Cerrado could lose an area the size of Czechia from now until 2027," added Anke Schulmeister – Oldenhove.
Alejandra Morales
Senior Communications Officer, Deforestation & Food
+32 488 84 98 05
This law would be the first in the world to tackle deforestation