Ending imported deforestation: What role can EU policy play?

Blog, 18 September 2015

Rampant deforestation resulting from growing demand for commodities such as timber, palm oil and soy has become a key contributor to global climate change, according to a growing number of experts.

The question we must now answer is what role the European Union (EU) – as the world’s largest economy – should be playing to bring an end to imported deforestation.  

Together, the 28 EU member states account for 16 percent of the world’s imports and exports of goods and services, including agricultural commodities. It is the world’s largest importer of wood products, soy and coffee worldwide and the third largest importer of palm oil after China and India.

Across the globe, forests are cleared to meet Europe’s demand for these and other products. Despite bringing wealth to producers and economic benefit to many emerging markets, this behaviour is further intensifying the climate change challenge. Fortunately, however, European society is acknowledging that its environmental footprint – and its responsibility to limit that footprint – today extends well beyond its own borders.

With world leaders poised to meet in Paris later this year to discuss steps that governments, industry and society must take to mitigate the effects of climate change, the spotlight will shine on Palm oil as both culprit and solution. At RSPO, we believe that achieving 100 per cent certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) in Europe is a realistic ambition, and a commitment that European governments should support.

If we are to deliver on this goal, however, we cannot rely solely on the commitments of RSPO and its members – including some of the world’s leading food manufacturers – to source 100 per cent CSPO. Many organisations across many different industries have yet to make a similar commitment. Support from political leaders, including EU policy-makers, to encourage and enable this transition is essential. And while we must engage more openly with civil society and consumers, we must encourage a closer dialogue between producing and importing countries. Political leaders can help us share the ambition of a Europe which consumes only CSPO.

It’s for this reason that RSPO is supporting the work of Conservation International in Brussels to raise awareness about the problem of imported deforestation among the Members of the European Parliament and EU officials, and to promote an open discussion on the policy options needed to address this issue.

Two years ago, the European Commission published a report on the impact of EU consumption on deforestation, which identified 34 policy options. Conservation International will be analysing six of these options in detail and will, on September 21, present its findings during a European Parliament event hosted by Nils Torvalds MEP.                                                                

We hope the findings and conclusions of Conservation International, and the discussion which will follow, will help raise the priority of these issues on the EU agenda and will help the EU find an answer to the question raised in this article. Whatever answer might emerge from this debate, I am confident that CSPO and the work done by all RSPO members will be an essential part of the solution.

During the next weeks we’ll invite experts from the Debate to present their views on this blog.

Danielle Morley