EU imports contributed to 16% of deforestation in tropical rainforests in 2017. Only China, in comparison, caused more damage to tropical rainforests over the same period. Up until 2013, the EU headed this list.
European benefits, global destruction
According to a recently released report from WWF, the EU’s imports are a double-edged sword. While many of the these imports are essential to sustaining the high quality of life many Europeans enjoy, it has also led to the EU ‘importing’ deforestation as a side-effect. However, this side-effect is not so much of a side-issue. This is especially true in the many countries home to the sites of this deforestation. Between 2005 and 2017, the EU and its imports alone have destroyed over 3.5 million hectares of tropical rainforest. As a result, the destruction of this area, larger than Belgium, has resulted in the release of 1.807 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. With this destruction, the EU is ahead of economic powerhouses like the USA and India regarding tropical rainforest destruction thanks to its import activities. Only China lies in front regarding the total area destroyed.
Globalisation means that most lives these days have an effect on ecosystems tens of thousands of kilometres away. Many residents in developed nations and their governments do not always account for such impacts. For instance, the national reports and statistics of EU states do not take into consideration the impact of EU imports on deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions in and around the tropics. This thus affects the implementation of climate targets such as those set at the Paris Agreement. While at home, EU countries may seem close to meeting their targets, elsewhere, their international trading activities severely hinder this progress. To illustrate this further, tropical deforestation-related CO2 emissions caused by the EU’s imports would amount to 40% of the EU’s annual emissions produced in Europe.
Commodification of tropical rainforests
The imports which caused the most rainforest destruction were soya and palm oil, for whose cultivation or production required the clearing of forests in South America and South East Asia. In addition, beef, wood products, cocoa and coffee were the next commodities with the largest impact on tropical rainforests. Emphatically, the blame for over 80% of the world’s tropical rainforest destruction lies with just these six products alone.
However, for customers to be able to buy such products in European supermarkets, forests have to give way in other regions of the world. If such consumption patterns are to continue, we will place even greater pressure on rainforest ecosystems.
Within the EU, Germany is responsible for the the most rainforest deforestation through imports. On average, deforestation occurs on an area of rainforest almost half as large as Berlin, 43 700 hectares, for commodities destined for the German market. In terms of impact per person, the Netherlands (18 m2 per person), Belgium (14 m2 per person) and Denmark (11 m2 per person) are the largest offenders. This destruction amounts to at least two times the EU average of 5 m2 of rainforest destroyed per person.
For the period on which the report focuses on (2005-2017), the EU’s largest economies at the time – Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Poland – were responsible for 80% of the EU’s deforestation in tropical areas through their use and consumption of commodities that put forest ecosystems at risk. Despite these alarming figures, the EU has made progress over time, with deforestation associated with its
imports falling steadily by around 40% between 2005 and 2017.
Recommendations from WWF
The trend in declining forest use has been brought about by voluntary commitments from businesses and governments. However, this has not sufficed in meeting the EU’s policy target on global deforestation, agreed upon in 2008. By 2020, the EU had wanted to at least halve tropical deforestation in comparison to 2008 levels. The EU missed this target.
The next target is coming up in 2030. By then, at the latest, the EU wants to halt global forest cover loss. To contribute to this goal, WWF have made some recommendations in their report. In general, they call for greater regulation and legal measures from the EU and its member states. Particularly speaking, the financial and business worlds should be made to do more to halt deforestation. For this purpose, WWF believe that national legislation can help create effective deterrents. Fines for companies or the confiscation of goods are needed, if regulations regarding deforestation are to be respected.
Holistic approach needed to protect nature
Alongside protecting forests, the EU must, according to WWF, protect other ecosystems. If other ecosystems are not protected, then the destruction which is presently happening in forests will simply be transferred. Many of these other ecosystems may not face as great a pressure as some areas of rainforest. Nonetheless, if they lack protection, then the consequences for livelihoods, the climate, and biodiversity will be stark, just as they currently are in heavily deforested areas.
In light of protecting rainforest ecosystems, the importance of other ecosystems to the world’s health must also not be neglected. Read the full report below!