Deforestation-free supply chains: a necessary response

The need to tackle ‘imported deforestation’ explains the growing interest in developing ‘zero-deforestation’ supply chains. The main cause of deforestation is the conversion of forests into agricultural land with monoculture tree plantations. In developing and emerging countries a significant share of converted land is used for producing export commodities such as cocoa, coffee, soy, beef, palm oil, pulp and paper, rubber or timber. So, importing products grown on deforested land indirectly encourages deforestation.

©EU GCCA+ Suriname

Through its external cooperation approach, the EU promotes integrated forest management measures that address the sustainability and legality of production and related value chains, while safeguarding biodiversity and local livelihoods. The approach encourages the scaling-up of deforestation-free supply chains by complementing trade-related measures with support for partner governments (e.g. on forest governance, land use planning, design of incentive measures and legality assurance systems), local producers (e.g. on production practices and compliance with certification requirements), and non-governmental organisations (as partners in advocacy and monitoring). Facilities, such as the EU Forest for the Future Facility, assist in providing technical support to contribute to healthy forest ecosystems and economic growth. The new EU Forest Partnerships will promote a holistic and integrated approach, including sustainable forest value chains and deforestation-free agriculture, forest restoration, promotion of investments, governance and law enforcement, and civil society participation. 

In recent years, the EU has developed a policy and regulatory framework (in progress) to support a shift towards deforestation-free commodity trade. This complements the existing EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, which tackles illegal logging and trade of wood helping strengthen forest governance outside the EU, but does not address agriculture-induced deforestation. 

Various mechanisms can support the development of deforestation-free supply chains. Private certification and voluntary labelling schemes, voluntary standards, user sensitisation and green procurement policies are increasingly used, but are insufficient to prevent deforestation on the required scale. Other options include a mandatory labelling scheme or a public certification of products associated with high deforestation risk; imposing stringent due diligence requirements on importers; and using differentiated taxes and duties to incentivise a shift towards deforestation-free production and consumption patterns. 
The Regulation proposes country benchmarking (categorising countries into low, standard and high risk producing relevant commodities that are not compliant with this regulation) combined with due diligence obligations for EU operators and traders (importers) of (initially six) deforestation-risk commodities, dependent on the risk level. 

©EU GCCA+ Ethiopia

The GCCA+ initiative contributes to this through various projects, for example by supporting the development of a sustainable and inclusive rubber tree value chain in the Democratic Republic of Congo, sustainable coffee production and forest ecosystem conservation through integrated landscape management in Ethiopia, and sustainable and innovative agricultural value chains in the Brazilian Amazon.
The conservation of natural forests is strategically important for both climate change mitigation (considering their potential for storing carbon) and adaptation (given their role in regulating water flows and local climate, and supporting key productions, livelihoods and biodiversity).