The new European Union Deforestation Regulation sets a precedent for responsible trade practices while safeguarding our planet’s biodiversity.

The European Union has taken a significant step toward addressing deforestation and protecting indigenous rights with the adoption of the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR). This new regulation will comes into effect today on 29th June 2023 and aims to minimize the EU market’s impact on global deforestation and forest degradation. The EUDR sets stringent requirements for operators and focuses on key commodities such as cattle, cocoa, coffee, oil palm, rubber, soya, and wood, requiring operators and traders to ensure their products are “deforestation-free.”

This regulation is important. It comes at a time when deforestation continues unabated worldwide, contributing significantly to climate change and biodiversity loss. In 2022 tropical primary forest loss totalled 4.1 million hectares, the equivalent of 11 football fields per minute. Deforestation at this scale leads to significant emissions – estimated at 2.7 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide emissions in 2022, about equivalent to India’s annual fossil fuel emissions.

Deforestation is one of the primary causes of landscape degradation – now affecting at least 40% of the world’s land. As deforestation accelerates, so do threats to the lives and rights of many indigenous peoples who depend on forests for their livelihood – not to mention the rest of life on Earth, reliant upon forest ecosystems to absorb excess carbon dioxide and keep our global climate in balance.

Let’s dive into why the EU deforestation-free regulation has been introduced and what it means for Europe in the coming years.

Consumers unwittingly part of deforestation

As Europeans do their daily shopping, many are unaware that they unwittingly support deforestation and abuses on human rights. In 2021, EU consumption was responsible for 16% of tropical deforestation. As Christophe Hansen, European Parliament Member explains, “until today, our supermarket shelves have all too often been filled with products covered in the ashes of burned-down rainforests and irreversibly destroyed ecosystems and which had wiped out the livelihoods of indigenous people. All too often, this happened without consumers knowing about it”.

The EUDR will increase transparency for products and ensure their production is not contributing to global deforestation. According to the EUDR, as of this month, commodities produced on land subject to deforestation since December 31, 2020, will no longer be permitted to be sold or exported within the EU.

Due diligence for deforestation-free products

The EUDR introduces a comprehensive due diligence process throughout the value chain for operators and traders dealing with the specified products. To be sold or exported in the EU market, the targeted commodities and their derived products (e.g. leather, meat, soy beans, coffee beans, pulp wood, furniture) must meet the “deforestation-free” criteria and comply with applicable local laws.

The extensive due diligence includes identifying the geolocation of production plots, production dates or time ranges and ensuring compliance with all regulations. Companies have until 20th December to comply with all requirements of the EUDR. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in large fines.

Potential risk: promoting degradation of other ecosystems

The EUDR is a welcome regulation in the protection of world forests and the integrity of the ecosystems they maintain. But we can’t stop there: the EUDR should be a first step towards greater protection and restoration of all ecosystems, including peatlands, wetlands, savannah, grasslands, and so on. Extending the EUDR is critical: Mighty Earth recently found that the deforestation of the Cerrado in Brazil – the world’s largest and most diverse savannah – hit a record high of 353,200 hectares between January and May 2023. Despite originating from a degraded ecosystem, products from this area are not yet subject to the EUDR, meaning companies can freely circumvent regulation by moving onto other ecosystem types. An ecosystems-wide regulation is key – without it, other threatened natural ecosystems may be further cleared and destroyed.

A future of degradation-free products

The new EU deforestation regulation is a crucial tool for addressing deforestation and its concurrent effects on climate change, biodiversity loss, and landscape degradation. By mandating extensive due diligence and setting the “deforestation-free” criteria for targeted commodities, the EUDR is a positive step towards protecting forests, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, preserving biodiversity, and safeguarding the rights of indigenous communities.

However, without the inclusion of all natural ecosystems in the regulation, the EUDR may unwittingly be promoting degradation of other ecosystems. It is vital to include the full plethora of natural ecosystems in order to truly ensure responsible trade practices and emphasise the EU’s commitment to sustainability and global environmental stewardship. Only then can we work towards a future of degradation-free products.

Author: Tom Lovett