EUROPEAN UNION LAWMAKERS have concluded negotiations on a ground-breaking new regulation that will block products linked to deforestation from being sold on the EU market. 

ClientEarth lawyers have welcomed the outcome of the political agreement reached on the main elements of the law, which will require companies to conduct due diligence to ensure they only import or export products that are deforestation-free and produced legally.

Michael Rice, ClientEarth lawyer, said: “This law has created a new gold standard for protecting forests. It has the potential to trigger the structural change the world needs to finally turn the tide against global deforestation.

“As the climate and biodiversity crises worsen, we cannot continue to put trade before environmental protection. EU decision-makers have taken a bold and necessary step forward to finally tackle the union’s over-sized impact on forests around the world. However, significant gaps remain that need to be filled. There is more work to be done.”

In order to show that their products – such as coffee, chocolate or palm oil – are not linked to deforestation, companies will have to pinpoint where they come from and trace them back to where they were produced.

Importantly, the law will provide for a judicial review mechanism to scrutinise proper enforcement of the rules, which is central for public enforcement and can greatly contribute to the effectiveness of the regulation.

However, some governments went against their commitments on forest protection by watering down crucial elements of the law that would deliver real impact on EU-driven deforestation. That includes protections in the law for the rights of Indigenous Peoples. The EU refused to include protection for internationally-recognised rights of Indigenous Peoples – the world’s best forest defenders – opting instead to rely on national laws in third countries to adequately protect Indigenous lands.

“Protecting the rights of the Indigenous and local communities on the frontline of forest protection is an essential part of solving the deforestation problem. The world’s forests cannot be preserved when their lands are grabbed and land tenure conflicts continue. This is an obvious and disappointing gap in the law,” said Rice.

EU governments represented by the Council were reluctant to tighten the enforcement framework of the regulation to make it water-tight or extend its application to other non-forest ecosystems, like savannahs and wetlands, or to the finance sector.

The targets for checks that national authorities will need to conduct on companies stays well below what the Commission had proposed based on lessons learned from the existing EU rules on illegal timber. Governments also backtracked on clear rules to address forest degradation linked to timber harvesting, agreeing to a definition that does not cover large-scale clear-cutting of native forests unless the land is converted to another use.

“The limited approach to what classifies as forest degradation restricts the protection to a fraction of natural forests with no regard to objective scientific criteria,” Rice said.

The proposed law received broad support among EU citizens and attracted attention globally. Over 140 activists and prominent artists, music and film stars including Barbra Streisand, Mark Ruffalo, Sting and Emma Watson called on lawmakers to respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights, standing with 1.2 million citizens who voiced their support for a strong law.

“Civil society will continue to demand member states follow-up on their promises, implement the new law thoroughly and strengthen its rules in the review processes that have been agreed.”

Formal adoption among all member states is likely to take place before early January.

* Source: ClientEarth