The European Commission is asking us for solutions on deforestation

The European Commission recently published its plan to solve deforestation under the title “Communication on stepping up EU Action against Deforestation and Forest Degradation “. The document is a roadmap which highlights some of the solutions that the EU is going to implement in order to curb down, and eventually end the Union’s contribution to the degradation of the world’s forests. The Commission is asking citizens and stakeholders to express their opinions on the EU strategy. The feedback section will be opened only until January 15th, so we don’t have any time to lose. Let’s take a look at some of the most important parts of the roadmap, you can read the full text here. Below these quotes you’ll find the feedback that I posted.

Before stating their strategy, the Commission underlines the importance of urgent action against deforestation and it acknowledges the heavy impact of EU’s demand on the tropical ecosystems :

“The livelihoods of more than 1.6 billion people are dependent on forests. Forests are a major provider of various important ecosystem services, and an essential source of timber, food and fiber. In addition, they host 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity and they play a significant role in soil condition, the water cycle, and the global carbon cycle. “

The EU is indeed among the major global importers of a number of specific commodities associated with deforestation, i.e. palm oil (25% of global imports), soy (15%), rubber (25%), beef (41%), maize (30%), cocoa (80%), and coffee (60%). “

“Forest degradation is related to the unsustainable extraction of forest products, such as timber, fuelwood, charcoal, (illegal) grazing along with natural causes of degradation, such as climate change, forest fires, pests and diseases. It reduces the capacity of the forest to provide essential goods and services.”

And here are the solutions that the Europeans Commissions proposes :

1) Build effective partnerships with producer countries in the tropical domain to support the uptake of sustainable agricultural and forestry practices, including afforestation, by both local communities and foreign investors, reduce pressure on forests, improve land governance and promote better conservation and management of tropical forests as well as alternatives livelihoods.

2) Promote sustainable and transparent supply chains for sustainably produced commodities and sustainable provision of related services.

3) Facilitate improved access, particularly by smallholders, to public and private investment and financial support, including through public-private partnerships, for sustainable value chains and sustainable landscapes. Achieve enhanced transparency of investment flows associated with deforestation, forest degradation, illegal logging and illegal land acquisition.

4) Strengthen international cooperation with other major consumer countries to ensure responsible and sustainable supply chains at the global level and reduce the risk of ‘leakages’.

5) Better mainstream considerations to prevent tropical deforestation and forest degradation throughout relevant EU policies.

I wrote two separate comments with feedback and ideas for solutions:

1) Recognize the value of intact forests

It’s great to hear that the EU mentions the crucial importance of the “ecosystem services” that forests provide. I wish that you didn’t lump the term in same sentence with”essential source of timber”, because it makes the phrase less clear. Healthy, intact forests have a very real, tangible economic value, because they provide our economies with services such as drinking water and climate stability. It’s really important that we recognize the financial value of these services and include them in our economic equations. Healthy forests provide our economies with invaluable resources worth trillions of euros. If we take these into account we’ll see that many economic activities that appear to be contributing to our GDPs are in fact deeply detrimental to the EU and global economies. By recognizing the high economic value of these services we can start creating financial incentives for the indigenous and local governments to preserve, protect and regenerate the forest ecosystems. Preserving the forests is not just an environmental, but an economic activity, that benefits the local economies as well as the global market. Living forests are in fact very profitable, but the market can’t recognize their value, unless they are turned into commodities. Rich industrialized countries, like the EU member states, as well as the corporations that profit directly from these services, should try to fix this market flaw by providing the local populations and authorities with funds aimed at maintaining the health and the integrity of the forest ecosystems.

2) Reducing our footprint

I’m really happy to see that the EC acknowledges the heavy impact of EU’s demand on the tropical ecosystems. The solutions proposed by the EC are based around the replacement of current modes of production with more sustainable agricultural practices. This is definitely a crucial piece of the puzzle, and the EU has a lot leverage that can be used to expedite this shift in production habits.

What I would like to see as well is a commitment from the EC aimed at reducing our consumption of goods that have high ecological footprints. If the EU wants to be a leader in sustainable development we’ll have to demonstrate our willingness to optimize our production and consumption patterns. I can think of two general ways to achieve this.

The first set of solutions should be aimed at making products with high footprints less desirable or/and less profitable. Labeling products in a way that discloses their environmental footprint in terms of land use and greenhouse gas emissions will promote the transparency of the market and will make it easier for consumers to make informed choices. Reducing or eliminating subsidies for industries that produce unsustainable products could be another step. Finally, taxing products based on their ecological footprint could be a good way of reducing the environmental externalities of unsustainable products. I believe all of these measures could be justified under article 191 (2) of the TFEU, ” ….environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.

The second set of solutions should be aimed at subsidizing and promoting products that have lower environmental impact than the goods that we’re importing from the tropical regions. Animal products, animal feed (soy) and palm oil are one of the biggest contributors to deforestation, especially tropical deforestation. Subsidizing plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy could make the EU a leader in this new emerging industry. Farmers that would like to switch away from meat and dairy should also be incentivized to make the transition. Investing in the promotion of these products could also be very helpful.

Provide your feedback

While I’m really happy to see that the European Institutions are requesting feedback from its citizens, I’m under no illusion that the European Commission will take my comments and transform them into legislation. At the same time I’m sure that if many people raise their voices, propose solutions and underline the urgency of the deforestation crisis our institutions will have to take notice. I know that millions of people in the EU are very concerned with deforestation and I wish that this would be reflected in the feedback section of the EC’s roadmap. Currently there are 9 comments, two of which are mine. Please take the time to provide your feedback, to congratulate the solutions proposed and/or to criticize them. Feel free to draw inspiration from my comments and reiterate or simply copy them in case you agree with my solutions. And please once you posted your comment, encourage some of your friends or family members to do the same. Let’s engage with our institutions and show them that we care about the future of the forests.


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