EU lawmakers should show global leadership by legislating to ensure that companies’ supply chains and investments are not linked to deforestation, environmental harm and human rights abuses, writes Giulia Bondi.
Giulia Bondi is an EU Campaigner for Global Witness
The stakes are high for the new European Parliament and team of Commissioners. Not only do they face a challenging welcome, with issues on EU borders, protecting European democracy from disinformation and interference, and digital security landing on their desks, they also face pressing global questions on the future of our planet.
And now more than ever, the world looks to the EU to take global leadership, as its citizens are faced with a climate-change denying President in the US; a Brazilian President letting the Amazon slip away through his powerful fingers; and political paralysis in the UK.
The climate strikes and this summer’s Amazon fires have pushed climate change and deforestation to the top of the public and political agenda. Extreme temperatures hitting European capitals this summer have shown that Europe is no exception to the effect of climate breakdown. But NGOs and scientists have issued frequent warnings for decades about the rate of deforestation and its impact on the climate. Earlier this year, even before the recent escalation of deforestation in Brazil, we heard that primary tropical rainforests the size of Belgium were lost in 2018.
Forests are crucial to regulating our global climate. Stopping and reversing tropical deforestation could avoid and remove up to a third of total greenhouse gas emissions – so taking action to tackle deforestation is crucial if we are to avert climate disaster. Planting new trees can never replace the multiple functions of centuries old tropical rainforests.
Just as we know that this tropical deforestation will have a global impact on our climate and weather patterns, we also know that this destruction is fuelled by a global market for the goods produced on deforested land and global finance funding the companies involved.
The time has come for the EU to take action to require companies and investors to ensure their supply chains and investments are not linked to deforestation, environmental harm and human rights abuses. We hope that MEPs will make this one of their political priorities and ensure that they secure commitment from the Commissioner candidates to bring forward legislation.
According to a European Commission study, the EU imported and consumed 10% of the global production of crops and livestock products associated with deforestation in the countries of origin over the period 1990-2008. In the case of Brazil, the EU is its second biggest trading partner, with 19% of all the EU’s soy coming from Brazil and 10% of all Brazilian beef for export destined for the EU. And it’s not just the demand driving this commodity based deforestation, but also companies and investors planning large scale projects with little regard for impact on the environment and human rights.
Guidelines and voluntary approaches are failing to prevent environmental destruction associated with industrial agriculture. Certification and labelling are not the answer and have been shown to be fraught with problems of weak enforcement, as highlighted in a European commission report. The most effective policy tool is for companies and investors to be required to undertake their own rigorous checks on the entire supply chain and investments. Companies are going to miss the 2020 deadline to eliminate commodity-driven deforestation from supply chains, so it now falls to the EU to act.
The European Commission should follow up the recent Communication on protecting and restoring the world’s forests, by committing to introduce legislation to require companies to identify, prevent, and mitigate environmental, social and governance risks and impacts throughout their entire supply chain and investments. Jointly with ClientEarth we have published a briefing setting out how this could work.
President-elect Ursula Von der Leyen’s declaration on the Green Deal, biodiversity strategy and climate neutrality are encouraging early signs. The EU must now seize the opportunity to leave a healthy and sustainable planet for future generations by committing to legislation to tackle the impact of the EU’s consumption and investments on people and the planet.