- By Jamie Shea
In the last decade, an area larger than Germany was lost to deforestation and the EU is partly to blame. The recently published WWF report, ‘Deforestation fronts: drivers and responses in a changing world’, highlights the causal relationship between global deforestation and EU imports, linking 10% of all deforestation to the EU’s demand for various products. Due to a reliance on goods like soy, wood, palm oil and beef, 43mn hectares of forest are now gone – forever.
At a recent climate summit in Paris, the EU renewed calls to tackle deforestation, viewing forests as a crucial defender in the global fight against climate change. Not only are forests home to the vast majority of wildlife, they also serve as natural carbon regulators. Each year forests absorb one-third of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. Yet, deforestation occurs at alarming rates in developing countries as they make room for soy, beef, cocoa, coffee and palm oil plantations – the lifeblood of many emerging economies.
Many of these products contribute to the EU’s problem of ‘imported deforestation’. Although the EU is putting in place measures to address deforestation at home, the pressure is mounting to confront its culpability in global deforestation, especially considering 87% of EU citizens believe laws should prevent these products from being sold in the EU.
What these laws would look like is unclear, but if previous policies are anything to go by then it could be another glaring example of EU hypocrisy and deflection.
The Amazon is not merely on the verge of a tipping point but rapidly approaching a stage beyond recovery
Take palm oil, for example. The EU waged war on Indonesian and Malaysian palm oil for its connection to deforestation and pledged to ban the vegetable oil by 2030. Palm oil imports were replaced with coconut, rapeseed and soybean oil, which require 4 to 10 times more land and more fertiliser for the same production output. Ultimately, the EU’s boycott on palm oil actually contributed to more deforestation and pollution.
Further, while the EU wages war on commodities like palm oil in the name of forests, the bloc continues to import the biggest culprits – beef and soy. Together, beef and soy contribute over two-thirds of deforestation in tropical rainforests across Latin America.
The EU’s disjointed approach – strong legislation to limit palm oil imports while increasing beef imports – makes no environmental sense. Since the 1970s, Latin America has witnessed a horrendous 94% decline in wildlife. This is no more serious than in the Amazon, where deforestation, particularly in Brazil, has surged to a 12-year high. Now scientists warn that the Amazon is not merely on the verge of a tipping point but rapidly approaching a stage beyond recovery. Yet, while 80% of the Amazon’s deforestation is directly connected to beef, it is still widely consumed across Europe with little scrutiny.
The EU had the benefit of consuming so much carbon on its pathway to wealth
The EU-Mercosur trade deal, a proposed free-trade arrangement between the South American trade bloc and the EU, will only increase beef imports from Amazon countries. Although the trade deal has yet to be approved, mostly due to a backlash from countries like France which are rightly questioning its role in worsening deforestation, the EU continues to use its own moral standing as a red herring for its true environmental culpability.
If the trade deal were to pass, it would give countries like Brazil the green light to continue on a path of environmental destruction in the name of profit. However, it’s not simply a matter of blaming Brazil or condemning deforestation through boycotts and new laws targeting certain commodities. The EU had the benefit of consuming so much carbon on its pathway to wealth, that it now sits on a pedestal of self-righteousness, criticising developing countries who cannot afford to take a sustainable path. A classic ‘do as I say, not as I do’ scenario.
One such example is the EU’s plans to impose a carbon tax targeting foreign imports on their carbon footprint, a move which would undercut African, Asian and Central American industries that do not yet have the means to transition to renewable energy. Most detrimentally, the plan excludes any support for green initiatives, limiting chances for environmental and economic equity.
Trade cannot come at the cost of the planet
Instead of this incoherent approach to addressing the climate crisis, the EU needs to do more to assist the developing world by embracing an adaptable sustainable path through policies and measures which help these nations abandon fossil fuels in a realistic and economical way. It needs a more consistent approach to both the environment and sustainable development – domestically and abroad.
By all means, the use of legislation is needed to protect the environment, but it must be accompanied by the construction a support network for the developing nations of Africa, Latin America and Asia to do so as well. In the meantime, the EU must practice what it preaches.
If the events of the past year have taught us anything, it’s that our relationship with nature is symbiotic, and if abused, dangerous. Now, more than ever, is time for the EU to holistically examine the policies and deals it is trying to enforce.
Trade cannot come at the cost of the planet.
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- By Reneta Shipkova
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