An EU legal framework to halt and reverse EU-driven global deforestation (EP request)

In “A European Green Deal”

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Over the past three decades, the world has lost 1.78 million km2 of forest, roughly the size of Libya. Deforestation, which contributes considerably to climate change and biodiversity loss, continues unabated, mainly driven by agricultural expansion for the production of a number of key commodities. Soy, beef and palm oil are responsible for about 80% of tropical deforestation worldwide. The EU is responsible for 7-10 % of global consumption of crops and livestock products that are associated with deforestation in their countries of origin. It is also among the major importers of commodities linked to deforestation, including palm oil, soy, rubber, beef, maize, cocoa and coffee.

The European Commission presented in July 2019 a communication proposing ways to step up EU action to protect the world’s forests - in particular primary forests - and restore forests in a sustainable and responsible way, with five priorities:

  1. Reducing the EU consumption footprint on land and encouraging the consumption of products from deforestation-free supply chains in the EU;
  2. Working in partnership with producing countries to reduce pressures on forests and to ‘deforest–proof’ EU development cooperation;
  3. Strengthening international cooperation to halt deforestation and forest degradation and encourage forest restoration;
  4. Redirecting finance to support more sustainable land-use practices;
  5. Supporting the availability of, quality of, and access to information on forests and commodity supply chains; and supporting research and innovation.

In its communication on the European Green Deal, the Commission indicated that, building on this, it would 'take measures, both regulatory and otherwise, to promote imported products and value chains that do not involve deforestation and forest degradation'.

Parliament decided to draft a legislative-initiative report seeking proposals from the Commission on an EU legal framework to halt and reverse EU-driven global deforestation. The Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), responsible for the file, appointed Delara Burkhardt (S&D, Germany) as rapporteur. The Committee on International Trade (INTA), associated Committee under Rule 57 of the Rules of Procedure, appointed Karin Karlsbro (Renew Europe, Sweden). The ENVI Committee considered the rapporteur's draft report at its meeting of 2 July 2020. The rapporteur recommended that the Commission presents a legislative proposal for mandatory due diligence for forest and ecosystem-risk commodities being placed on the Union market. The proposed legal framework could follow the model of the EU Timber Regulation, with an improved implementation and enforcement mechanism, and should include further requirements (going beyond the legality of sourcing of the commodities in the country of origin to include sustainability criteria and human rights protection).

The legislative-initiative report adopted by the ENVI Committee on 1 October 2020 calls on the Commission to propose an EU legal framework based on mandatory requirements for due diligence, reporting, disclosure and third-party involvement for companies placing forest and ecosystem-risk commodities and derived products on the EU market. Penalties should be imposed in case of non-compliance with these duties, and access to justice and remedy be ensured for victims of such breaches. The future framework should guarantee not only the legality, but also the sustainability of the harvesting, production, extraction and processing of the commodities in the country of origin, and include the protection of human rights, in particular land tenure, land and labour rights, with a special view to the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. It should also cover high-carbon stock and biodiversity-rich ecosystems other than forests. The report calls for binding definitions of what constitutes deforestation and forest degradation.

A European added value assessment by the European Parliamentary Research Service, accompanying the own-initiative legislative report, looked into four possible demand-side EU-level regulatory measures that could be undertaken to eliminate deforestation and associated carbon emissions embodied in EU imports of forest-risk commodities. Those policy options include 1) mandatory due diligence, 2) mandatory certification standards, 3) mandatory certification standards with due diligence; and 4) mandatory labelling. The assessment showed that to varying extents, all of the policy options analysed decrease deforestation and associated carbon emissions, while having a relatively small impact on the EU economy in terms of a decrease in EU GDP and employment.

On 22 October 2020, the Parliament adopted the legislative-initiative report in plenary by 377 votes in favour, 75 against and 243 abstentions.

In the annexes accompanying its 2021 work programme, the Commission announced that it would table a legislative proposal aimed at minimising the risk of deforestation and forest degradation associated with products placed on the EU market in the second quarter of 2021.

The Commission presented its proposal for a regulation on deforestation-free products on 17 November 2021. The proposal takes on board Parliament's call for mandatory due diligence rules, which was welcomed by ENVI Committee members during an exchange of views with the Environment Commissioner on 18 November. They raised, however, a number of issues regarding the scope and extent of the proposed regulation. Questions concerned, in particular, the list of commodities covered (the non-inclusion of maize and rubber); the scope restricted to forests (the non-inclusion of other natural ecosystems); the protection of the rights of local communities and indigenous people; and the role of the financial sector and investments (not targeted by the proposal). To check progress on this legislative file, see separate fiche in Train 1 on 'Deforestation and forest degradation linked to products placed on the EU market'.

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Further reading:

Author: Vivienne Halleux, Members' Research Service, legislative-train@europarl.europa.eu

As of 20/11/2022.