The UK Government is proposing to introduce a new law imposing regulations on trade in forest risk commodities in an attempt to reduce illegal deforestation. This new law would force large companies to introduce due diligence policies for the forest risk commodities (e.g. beef, palm oil, soya) present in their supply chain, similar to the requirements already imposed on wood and paper products through the EU and UK timber regulations. Companies would have to demonstrate that they have taken precautions to ensure forest risk commodities have been produced legally, in line with the relevant laws of the country of origin, and are not produced on illegally deforested land.
The introduction of this new law comes at a time when there is growing frustration amongst environmentalists, the forest products sector and the wider public at the continuing high rates of illegal deforestation in tropical areas. The leading cause of deforestation is now conversion to agriculture driven by commercial demand for agricultural products.
By requiring companies supplying forest risk commodities into the UK to comply with this law, the aim is to reduce demand for illegally sourced agricultural commodities and thereby reduce incentives to convert natural tropical forest.
A 2019 study shows in the period 2005–2013, 62% (5.5 Mha yr−1) of forest loss globally could be attributed to expanding commercial cropland, pastures and tree plantations. The commodity groups most commonly associated with deforestation were cattle meat, plantation grown forest products, oil palm, cereals and soybeans, though variation between countries and regions was large. A large (26%) and slightly increasing share of deforestation was attributed to international demand, the bulk of which (87%) was exported to countries that either exhibit decreasing deforestation rates or increasing forest cover (late- or post-forest transition countries), particularly in Europe and Asia (China, India, and Russia).
To date, only forest products in international trade have been subject to due diligence requirements. This new law extends the same requirements to international trade to agricultural commodities that collectively are a bigger threat to the existence of natural forests in the tropics.
Of course, this law can achieve only so much on its own. The EU is considering similar measures. Supply side measures involving governments and communities in tropical countries are also critical, particularly to improve forest governance and to provide incentives for sustainable forest management. There needs to be carrots as well as sticks, in the form of strong global demand for sustainably managed forest products and mechanisms to reward local communities and other forest operators for carbon sequestration and other environmental services. However, this new law is a very promising step on the road to eliminating illegal deforestation from UK supply chains and may encourage similar action in other large consuming countries.
For the forest products sector this law has the added advantage of levelling the playing field. As things stand, all wood and paper products placed on the UK and EU markets are subject to due diligence requirements, even if sourced from verified sustainable forest management operations which in no way contribute to deforestation and instead provide incentives for conservation. Meanwhile agricultural commodities derived from forest land which has been cleared, sometimes illegally, are not subject to the same level of scrutiny.
The UK government is now conducting a consultation on whether this law should be introduced. We urge you to go and lend your support and voice you opinion over on their website: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/eu/due-diligence-on-forest-risk-commodities/consultation/subpage.2020-07-02.2421234447/