The European Union’s long-awaited Communication on Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests brings a welcome dose of common sense in a world where satellite data showing evidence of deforestation is being questioned.
The plan sets out five priorities, with reducing the EU’s consumption footprint on land and encouraging the consumption of products from deforestation-free supply chains in the EU top of the list, and endorses a partnership approach between producer and consumer countries, business and civil society to deliver them.
Proposed actions include a multi-stakeholder dialogue with member states on deforestation, stronger standards and certification to promote deforestation-free commodities, and an investigation into the need for regulatory measures, including an assessment of the need for companies to carry out due diligence for supply chains in their sustainability strategies, creating a more level playing field.
Helen Bellfield, Trase lead at Global Canopy, commented:
“The EU’s plan contains some welcome elements, including recognition of the need for due diligence requirements for companies. The latest Forest 500 assessment shows that not enough companies are taking voluntary action to address deforestation risks in their supply chains. The EU can raise the bar by requiring companies to assess the risks they face.”
An Observatory to increase transparency
The Communication recognises that better information is key to addressing deforestation in agricultural supply chains, setting a priority to support the availability of, quality of, and access to information on forests and commodity supply chains.
It highlights the need for better monitoring of trade flows down to national, regional and local levels, providing greater transparency for companies purchasing agricultural commodities, and highlights the role of Trase as one of the platforms currently seeking to do this.
This priority is important given the current problems with accessing data on agricultural supply chains entering Europe. In our joint submission to the EU’s consultation, Global Canopy and SEI highlighted how the EU is currently less transparent than many countries outside of Europe in terms of access to detailed information on exports and imports, including the US, China, and Brazil.
While the Communication does not make any commitments on increasing access to data at the EU level, it does propose a new EU Observatory on Deforestation, Forest Degradation, Changes in Forest Cover and Associated Drivers.
Dr Chris West, Senior Trase Research Associate, based at SEI-York said:
“Stronger EU leadership to increase transparency would be very welcome. Manufacturers and retailers sourcing agricultural commodities can only tackle deforestation linked to their supply chains if they have an understanding of how they are connected to deforestation frontiers. This means not only highlighting where deforestation is taking place, but increasing transparency on the often complex supply chains that are used to bring forest-risk commodities into Europe.”
A plan for the future?
There is, of course, one major drawback in the EU’s action plan — as it says, the mandate of the current Commission is drawing to a close, and so the priorities highlighted will not serve as a definitive blueprint for the incoming Commission which begins work in the autumn.
But it says: “the challenges we face are urgent enough to merit a serious analysis of the problems, a discussion on how to tackle them, the identification of a number of proposals that can be put forward immediately, and the preparation of regulatory and financial responses, which are for the incoming Commission’s political leadership to decide upon.”
Much hangs on the political will of the incoming administration, but they cannot shy away from the European Union’s existing commitments under the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the New York Declaration on Forests.
The action plan merely describes the journey needed to reach this destination. It will be up to the next administration to map out the route.