EU demand for leather, soy and palm oil driving illegal deforestation

Campaigners say bloc must tighten import laws, citing loss of 2.4 million hectares of tropical forests to farmers and industry

(Pic: CIAT/Flickr)

(Pic: CIAT/Flickr)

By Ed King

European demand for beef, leather, soy and palm oil is driving illegal and vast levels of deforestation in the developing world, a study released today claims.

The UK, Italy, Germany and France are top destinations for goods sourced from farmland which was once home to tropical rainforest, says the NGO Fern.

It says a quarter of all soy, a third of leather and nearly a fifth of palm oil products sourced from illegally cleared land end up within the European Union.

“It’s well documented the EU has been leading the world in imports of products which drive deforestation, but this is the first time that we have data showing how much of this is illegal,” Saskia Ozinga from Fern said in an emailed statement.

More than half of these products arrive in the EU from Brazil, Fern revealed, with Indonesia, Malaysia and Paraguay other important sources.

Between 2000-2012 Fern said 2.4 million hectares of land in these countries was illegally cleared to meet rising demand for these goods. The UK is the main destination for beef, Italy leather and France soy.

Analysis: APP turnaround offers hope for Indonesia’s tropical forests
Report: “Forest 500″ index reveals deforestation heroes and villains 

The world’s tropical forests play a vital role in regulating the world’s climate and storing trillions of tonnes of carbon, but are coming under increasing threat from the mining and farming sectors.

After years of progress the rate of deforestation in the Amazon increased between 2012-2013, with an extra 5,891 square kilometres lost, WWF reported last year.

Deforestation and land degradation are responsible for around 12% of carbon dioxide emissions last decade, according to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment.

Last year 27 governments and 34 companies pledged to halve natural forest loss by 2020 and stop it completely by 2030.

The EU has an action plan to slow illegal deforestation, known as EU-FLEGT. It is currently evaluating its policies with a series of recommendations due out in October 2015.

Campaigners say the bloc should adopt tougher and wider rules on what it imports and how commodities are sourced, which they say will protect forests and local communities under threat from developers.

“EU consumption does more than devastate the environment and contribute to climate change,” said Sam Lawson, author of the report.

“The illegal nature of the deforestation means it is also driving corruption, and leading to lost revenues, violence and human rights abuses.

“Those seeking to halt the illegal deforestation have been threatened, attacked or even killed.”

Read more on: Forests | Research |