New European Union law reinforces the need for urgent measures for zero deforestation in Brazil

dezembro, 06 2022

The legislation is a historic milestone for forests and will likely include non-forest biomes such as the Cerrado in its first revision, one year after the start of its implementation
By WWF-Brazil 

The European Union will no longer allow the import of products related to the clearing of forest ecosystems, anywhere in the world. The historic decision was taken at a meeting between the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament, which began this Monday (5th) and continued into the early hours of Tuesday (6th). The approved wording sets the cutoff date of December 31, 2020 for legal and illegal deforestation, which means that agricultural, livestock and timber commodities produced on land deforested after that date will not be able to enter and be traded in the European Union.

The legal text approved this morning brings progress when compared to previous versions. For example, it expands the list of products to be barred in case of non-compliance with the law: beef, soy, coffee, cocoa, palm oil and wood, as well as products that contain or come from animals that have been fed with these commodities (items such as leather, oils, chocolate, furniture, paper, rubber, coal, among others).

In the case of producing and exporting countries, such as Brazil, among the important requirements of this new law is the requirement of zero deforestation, not accepting the legal or illegal suppression of forests, according to the legislation of the country of origin. This is a key determination, because from a climate and biodiversity point of view, destruction is destruction, regardless of whether it is accepted or not in certain national contexts.

The planetary crisis we are experiencing requires firm and urgent measures. The common good of all humanity cannot depend on the political or corporate interests of specific groups in producing countries. At the end of the day, without a functioning planet, there will not even be production in countries that still resist in eliminating the devastation of their remnants of native vegetation

In countries like Brazil, where there is a recurrence of legal amnesties for deforesters and land grabbers, it will be necessary to adopt more consistent practices of enforcement and environmental crime combat, under the risk of making exports unfeasible not only to the European Union, but also for other countries and trade blocs that, likewise, advance in the elaboration of similar legislations. It is notable the growing number of importers which are in the process of defining policies to no longer turn a blind eye to the devastation of natural ecosystems caused by consumption in their territories.

“Contrary to the claims of some groups that oppose the provisions of this new law, several scientific studies have made it clear that Brazil can more than double its agricultural production without having to cut down a single tree. We know that deforestation is one of the major vectors of climate change, increasing emissions, extinguishing species, collapsing biomes and jeopardising key ecosystem services, such as keeping the rainfall regime. These services are also essential to ensure the strength of agricultural and forestry production in the long term. Deforestation is often also associated with the violation of rights of local peoples and communities”, says Frederico Machado, Public Policies Specialist at WWF-Brazil.

“Europeans made history with this world's first law against deforestation. As a major trading bloc, the EU will not only change the rules of the game for consumption within its borders, it will also create a strong encouragement for a change in policies and practices in other countries that (directly or indirectly) drive deforestation. The law is not perfect, but it includes many elements of great forcefulness,” says Anke Schulmeister-Oldenhove, Senior Director of Forest Policy at WWF's European Policy Office.

Cerrado and non-forest ecosystems

Although non-forest ecosystems such as the Pampa and large areas of the Cerrado, Pantanal and Caatinga biomes were not included in this first version of the European law, the authorities involved point out that this inclusion is already foreseen and should occur in the next revisions of the legislation. The commitment is that within a year, after the beginning of the implementation, the inclusion of the so-called non-forested arboreal areas (“other wooded lands”) will be evaluated, keeping the same cut-off date defined in the negotiation: December 31, 2020. And in no more than two years, the inclusion of other non-forest natural ecosystems on the planet will be considered.

Specifically on the Cerrado, the current version of the law already includes a part of the biome - where forest vegetation occurs - but ends up leaving out areas that have been suffering great pressure from the expansion of the agricultural frontier. The Cerrado is the biome most impacted by European consumption, with emphasis on deforestation caused by soy and cattle ranching.

The inclusion of non-forest ecosystems in the scope of the law has been repeatedly demanded from the members of the European Union by indigenous peoples and traditional communities of the Cerrado, with the support of academic organisations and civil society, both Brazilian and international. The peoples of the Cerrado have reported that the continuous conversion of the Cerrado generates, among other problems, violent land conflicts that affect territories of peoples and communities, resulting in human rights abuses and the destruction of their livelihoods and subsistence.

“Although part of the Cerrado was not included in the scope of this first version of EU legislation, zeroing out the conversion of this important biome is already a commitment assumed by hundreds of large companies, banks and national and international investors. Brazil is one of the largest producers and exporters of commodities and if we want to continue to sell abroad and receive foreign capital and investments, we will need to adopt forceful and immediate measures to stop deforestation in the Cerrado. The private commitments mentioned here, added to the content of new international legislation in preparation, only increase the urgency for the new Brazilian government to fulfil its promises in the socio-environmental field, and to work with commitment and in cooperation with Brazilian and foreign sectors in order to achieve zero deforestation in all our biomes”, adds Frederico Machado.  

Deforestation-free products

The decision taken by the EU represents an important contribution to the conservation of biodiversity, the theme of COP15, which begins this Wednesday (7) in Montreal, Canada. The EU is one of the world's biggest importers of commodities associated with deforestation, second only to China. In addition to compromising the survival of species, the destruction of biomes also implies significant emissions of greenhouse gases - in Brazil, for example, more than 70% of emissions are associated with deforestation and agricultural activities.

Among other provisions, EU legislation defines that imported commodities will be traced back to the farm of origin (or the exact plot of land where production took place), avoiding possible gaps or illegal triangulation of products between compliant farms and those that do not respect the requirements, preventing fraud from the first stages of the production chains.

Harsh penalties are also foreseen for exporting companies that do not adapt and do not comply with the new legislation, including heavy fines, which will start from at least 4% of the total annual value of the corporations' operations in EU territory.

Now that the main pillars of the new law have been agreed, negotiators will meet in the coming weeks to align details and conclude the text. Among the next steps are approval and formalisation by the European Parliament and Council. The new law will enter into force within 20 days of its publication in the EU Official Journal, although some of its articles have up to 18 months to enter into effective implementation.
The text expands the list of products to be barred in case of non-compliance with the law: beef, soy, coffee, cocoa, palm oil and wood
© André Dib/WWF-Brasil
In countries like Brazil, where there is a recurrence of legal amnesties for deforesters and land grabbers, it will be necessary to adopt more consistent practices of enforcement and environmental crime combat
© Araquém Alcântara/WWF-Brasil