Will new European law to tackle deforestation help? ‘I’m afraid it won’t have much of an effect’

It is no longer permitted to cut down tropical forest for the production of food and raw materials. That is the essence of a new European law. Advocates believe this is an important step in tackling deforestation. But the question is how to check it.

Cocoa, meat, palm oil, soy, rubber and coffee. These are products to which the new legislation should apply. The new law requires producers to prove that no new trees have been felled since 2020 for the goods imported into Europe. It has been talked about for a long time, but now it is happening for real: the final agreement still seems like a formality.

MEP Bas Eickhout of GroenLinks has long been a supporter of this regulation and welcomes the European agreement. “It is an incredibly good decision. For the first time in Europe, we are now making companies responsible for what they cause in the production chain.”

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‘Manufacturers can bypass enforcement’

Whether the new legislation will help depends on monitoring and enforcement. Eickhout believes that inspections by official bodies and social institutions will force producers to comply with the rules. “They will also have to geo-locate where the production is coming from. It’s getting harder and harder to get around this.”

Gert-Jan Nabuurs, professor of forestry at Wageningen University & Research, is less optimistic about enforcement. He sees that the existing rules regarding the import of wood are now often avoided. Producers are moving to countries that are less keen on control, such as Italy, he says. “I fear that this legislation will therefore not have much effect. Indirectly, the rules improve processes such as local forest management in the tropical rainforest and forest policy.”

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Deforestation the size of a hundred times Holland

The necessity of the measure becomes clear if one expresses the rate at which trees are felled worldwide in bare numbers. 420 trees are felled every minute. And since 1990, around 420 million hectares of forest have disappeared. This corresponds to 100 times the area of ​​the Netherlands.

This has major consequences for biodiversity. It is estimated that deforestation kills more than 100 species of plants and animals every day. This week in Montreal, Canada, there is talk of preventing the loss of biodiversity. And deforestation plays a big role in this.

The important role of forests

For millions of years, forests and jungles have played an important role in extracting and retaining the greenhouse gas CO2. But due to massive global deforestation, that role is becoming less and less.

In addition, a lot of CO2 is released back into the atmosphere in a short time. For example, because the felled trees are used as firewood. Or because the freed land is used to grow soy for animal feed. These are all processes that climate scientists believe contribute to global warming.

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‘Palm oil is in all products’

For the import of wood, since 2013 there have been rules to prevent the import of unsustainable tropical hardwood. According to forestry expert Nabuurs, the new legislation is primarily intended to further protect the primeval forest in the tropical rainforests.

“It is very important, because areas change from forest to agricultural land,” explains Nabuurs. “Only 200 species can live on one hectare. We hardly know many plants and animals in the areas.”

Stricter regulations on the production of soy and palm oil in particular should prevent further clearing because we use many of those products in Europe. “These products are largely responsible for a lot of deforestation. Palm oil is in almost every product we eat and use, such as peanut butter, chocolate spread and shampoo. And soy is very important as animal feed,” says Nabuurs.

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Why not biomass?

There is also criticism of the new legislation, because why is the import of wood for biomass not included? This is wood that is burned to generate energy. “Unfortunately, with this law we have not solved all the hypocrisy in the European Union,” says MEP Eickhout. “I think we are taking a good step with this law, but there is a lot to do, including biomass.”

Professor Nabuurs believes that it is not surprising that logging for biomass is not included in the new legislation. According to him, it is only a small part of the logging, and the wood is harvested in managed forest areas.

“It’s not deforestation. You cut down the trees and plant new ones. In the US, you do it mainly to build wooden houses, and the bad trees are then used for biomass. If we want to get rid of fossil fuels, wood is an important fuel, so you have to could also harvest wood,’ says Nabuurs.

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