UK to ban products of illegal deforestation

Jon Deery dissects UK plans to end the import of products contributing to illegal deforestation

Jon Deery
25th November 2020
In a year where an area the size of Wales has burned down in the Amazon alone, the UK government has cracked down on the imports of products that are causing illegal deforestation. But with many countries having dangerously relaxed deforestation laws, this move is likely not going to have any meaningful impact on the climate crisis.

The two leading causes of global deforestation are meat and soya production, respectively. Both of these are imported into the UK from companies who are known to be destroying the world’s rainforests, like the Brazilian company JBS. Other products like cocoa, palm oil, rubber, timber and paper are also key commodities that cause illegal deforestation.

Announcement of the new ban “will do almost nothing to advance the global fight against deforestation"

Pat Venditti, Campaigns Director at Greenpeace UK

By announcing a ban on all goods imported from countries that violate deforestation laws, the UK government has made a clear statement of displeasure with these practises. Lord Goldsmith, the UK’s environment minister, said: “Our intent is not just to take world-leading domestic measures, but to build a global alliance of countries committed to working together to protect the world’s precious forests.”

But according to Pat Venditti, campaigns director at Greenpeace UK, that announcement “will do almost nothing to advance the global fight against deforestation.

Credit: Merritt Thomas on Unsplash

“For this new law to be fit for purpose, all deforestation, not just deforestation deemed ‘illegal’ should be ruled out. And stronger sanctions should be imposed, such as bans on products entering the market if they cannot be proved to be free from deforestation and human rights abuses throughout the entire supply chain.”

"This isn’t the world-leading proposal to protect and restore forests that we need. Nor is it a tough plan to safeguard these important ecosystems and fight the climate emergency."

Kierra Box, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth

But proving such claims could be near impossible for UK firms. As a recent Greenpeace report concluded, “when it comes to the use of high-risk commodities in animal feed, downstream companies appear to know neither the volumes they use nor the details of the producer groups from which they source… 

“Producers themselves are ignoring civil society’s demand for transparency, while governments are failing to hold the sector to account by insisting on traceability and effective due diligence.”

And so, if this bill is to be effective, it must also come with tougher demands on corporate transparency. Kierra Box, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: “This isn’t the world-leading proposal to protect and restore forests that we need. Nor is it a tough plan to safeguard these important ecosystems and fight the climate emergency. Asking businesses to obey the law is not world-leading, it is just the very least we should be able to expect from them.”

Nazarizal Mohammad on Unsplash

Ruth Chambers of Greener UK highlighted the issue that “this ban only refers to illegally deforested land… in some countries forest protection is so weak that rainforests are being felled legally. What will the government do about that?”

This bill’s main supporters are the companies themselves, 21 of which (including McDonald’s, Tesco and Lidl) had written to the government prior to the new law, asking for them to pursue the toughest possible measures to tackle deforestation. The companies’ letter itself declared that “Restricting action to illegal deforestation would not achieve halting the loss of natural ecosystems, especially when governments have discretion to decide what is legal.”

The CEO of Tesco UK and Ireland, Jason Tarry, said of the new law: “We welcome these new measures as an important first step towards creating a level playing field in the UK, aligned with Tesco’s goal of zero deforestation. We hope this encourages all businesses to do the right thing.”

Featured Image: Justus Menke on Unsplash

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