Much of the deforestation that takes place in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America is the result of the European consumption of commodities, such as soy, cocoa and palm oil. Stricter EU-level regulations could go a long way to put an end to deforestation. Such regulations are a contentious political issue, but at the end of 2020, after years of concerted lobbying by TBI and partners, there was a breakthrough.
On October 22, 2020, the European Parliament adopted the Burkhardt report. The report contains recommendations for a legal framework to halt and reverse EU-driven deforestation, which the European Commission is expected to present in 2021. The report unequivocally calls for binding legislation on due diligence. This means that companies that import agrocommodities into the EU would be obliged to ensure that these commodities are not produced at the expense of forests.
For many years, Tropenbos International has been calling for such binding EU legislation, as part of a ‘smart mix of measures.’ TBI advocated for this in discussions with the Government of the Netherlands and the Amsterdam Declaration Partnership, among others. TBI was also able to share its views as a member of the EU multi-stakeholder platform on deforestation and forest degradation, which had a direct link to the European Commission. The adoption of the Burkhardt report in 2020 was a clear sign that these joint lobbying and advocacy efforts had not been in vain. But the battle is not yet won.
Ambitious binding measures are needed, but they are only part of the solution. This became clear from intensive discussions that TBI held with its network members and partners. They pointed out that if EU regulations were not well designed, they could have unintended negative consequences in supply areas, since they could lead to the exclusion of smallholders from international value chains. This was one of the main messages of a TBI position paper provided as input to a public consultation organized by the EU. The paper argues that binding regulations would need to be combined with additional support measures in producer countries for smallholder inclusion and to address underlying causes of deforestation.
One way to jointly develop such supporting measures is through partnerships between the EU and producing countries. One such partnership, focusing on cocoa, has recently been established between the EU, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. This will serve as an important model for partnership agreements with other countries, covering other commodities.
In 2021 the EU legal framework will further take shape, and TBI and partners are planning to be closely involved. The goal is to help establish a smart mix of binding, non-binding and supportive measures. TBI and its partners will push for broad regulations. This means, among others, that regulations should apply to forests as well as other vulnerable ecosystems, and should also address human rights violations. At the same time, the aim is to mobilize civil society in producing countries to participate in new partnerships with the EU, such as the one on cocoa. This involvement will ultimately determine how effective the EU legislation will be.
This article is part of the TBI Annual review 2020,
due for release in May 2021