Many products that contribute to deforestation will no longer be able to be imported and sold in the European Union as part of a preliminary agreement reached by EU lawmakers on Tuesday morning.
The agreement reached by representatives of the Council and Parliament concerns palm oil, cattle, soy, coffee, cocoa, wood and rubber, as well as derived products such as beef, furniture, chocolate, printed paper and selected palm oil-based derivatives.
This means that companies must now carry and issue a “due diligence statement” that these goods placed on the EU market have not led to deforestation and forest degradation worldwide after December 31, 2020.
According to the WWF NGO, the bloc of 27 countries is the second largest importer of deforestation after China and is responsible for 16% of the deforestation associated with international trade.
“The new rules are intended to ensure that when consumers buy these products, they do not contribute to the further degradation of forest ecosystems. Protecting the environment around the world, including forests and rainforests, is a common goal of all countries and the EU is ready to assume its responsibility,” Marian Jurečka, the Czech Minister of Environment, who led the negotiations for the Council, said in a statement.
The deal is being touted as a big win for Parliament, which has added rubber, charcoal and a number of palm oil derivatives to the text.
MEPs also worked on a more comprehensive definition of forest degradation, which includes the conversion of primary forests, or forests that regenerate naturally, into plantation forests or other forested areas and the conversion of primary forests into planted forests.
In the meantime, the European Commission has been mandated to examine whether the scope of the legislation should be extended to other forested areas, other ecosystems and raw materials over the next two years.
It will also consider whether EU financial institutions should be included and prohibited from providing services to customers if there is a risk that these services could lead to deforestation.
“It wasn’t easy, but we achieved a strong and ambitious result ahead of the COP15 conference on biodiversity in Montreal,” rapporteur Christophe Hansen (EPP, Luxembourg) said in a statement.
“This important new tool will protect forests worldwide and cover more raw materials and products such as rubber, printed paper and charcoal. We’ve also ensured that the rights of indigenous people, our first allies in fighting deforestation, are effectively protected. We have also achieved a clear definition of forest degradation, which will cover an extensive area of forest,” he added.
Greenpeace described the new legislation as a “major breakthrough for forests and for the people who have stood up against them.”
“Make no mistake, this bill will silence some chainsaws and prevent companies from benefiting from deforestation,” said John Hyland, Greenpeace’s EU spokesperson.
However, the NGO criticized the fact that, in its opinion, EU governments have “closed loopholes for their timber industry and weak protections for the rights of indigenous peoples who pay with their blood to protect nature.”
It also complained that companies that benefit from deforestation can obtain loans from European banks.
WWF also welcomed the deal with Anke Schulmeister-Oldenhove, senior forest policy officer in his office for European Policy, saying that “we made history with this world’s first law against deforestation.”
“As a major trading bloc, the EU will not only change the rules of the game for consumption within its borders, but will also offer a major incentive to other countries that are driving deforestation to change their policies. The law isn’t perfect, but it contains strong elements,” she also said.
However, the NGO would have liked other ecosystems to be included, such as savannas, which, in their opinion, are already under immense pressure from the restructuring of agriculture and represent important carbon stores and refuges for animals. She also does not consider the definition of forest degradation to be “sufficiently ambitious.”
The legislation must now be formally approved by the European Parliament and the European Council.