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UK plan to crack down on illegal deforestation falls short

The UK government has set out plans to introduce a new law to clamp down on illegal deforestation and protect rainforests by getting tough on the country’s supply chains. But the proposal would not require the UK to cease trading with companies involved in illegal and climate destructive deforestation.

The proposal would require companies to show their products, such as rubber, beef, soil and palm oil, are produced in line with local laws protecting forests and prove their supply chains are not connected to rainforests cleared illegally.

Companies unable to do this will be subject to fines, although the government is yet set out how large the fines will be.

WWF says roughly 28% of the land needed to meet UK demand every year is in countries that are “high risk” to nature. So any steps to remove illegal deforestation from countries’ supply chains are vital in fighting the climate and ecological crisis; trees are critically important in sequestering carbon, a large part of which comes from our use of damaging fossil fuels.

Although this is definitely a step in the right direction, there are major flaws to the legislation. Under the plan, companies could continue to sell products into the UK if they met the rules, but still sell products connected to illegal deforestation elsewhere. This means consumers could still be propping up climate damaging industries.

Elena Polisano, forests campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “Defra’s proposal to make it ‘illegal for larger businesses to use products unless they comply with local laws to protect natural areas is seriously flawed.

“We’ve all seen the way President Bolsonaro has championed the expansion of agriculture in Brazil at the expense of the Amazon rainforest. There is also nothing to address the fact that some commodity producers may have one ‘sustainable’ line but continue to destroy forests elsewhere which just shifts the problem into someone else’s backyard.

“We will never solve this problem without tackling demand. Companies like Tesco, who sell more meat and dairy and so use more soya for animal feed than any other UK retailer, know what they need to do to reduce the impact they are having on deforestation in the Amazon and other crucial forests.

“They must reduce the amount of meat and dairy they sell and drop forest destroyers from their supply chain immediately,” she added.

Rethink demand

Deforestation, accounts for over 10% of heat trapping emissions and half of tropical deforestation is illegal, according to the World Economic Forum. The main drivers of tropical deforestation come from just four commodities – beef, soy, palm oil, and wood products. When forests are destroyed, that carbon is released into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming.

Converting forest to pasture for beef cattle, largely in Latin America, is responsible for destroying 2.71 million hectares of tropical forest each year in just four countries. Moreover, the growing global demand for meat and dairy products has contributed to the doubling of soybean production in the last 20 years.

The consultation on the legislation will run for six weeks, details of which can be found here.

UK’s international environment minister Lord Goldsmith commenting on the plans said: “Ahead of hosting the UN Climate Change Conference next year, the UK has a duty to lead the way in combatting the biodiversity and nature crisis now upon us.”

The government this year gave the green light to the £100bn+ high-speed rail project, HS2, which will lead to irreversible destruction of UK ancient habitats and woodlands.

Take action

We can take action to stop illegal deforestation. While governments and industries continue to put profit ahead of people, we can step in.

As consumers, we are hugely powerful. If we boycott certain goods, we can set off a chain reaction which can ultimately see climate and ecologically damaging products eliminated from our shelves.

Click on the icons below to see how your choices matter:

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