Greenpeace urges EU to do more to halt palm-oil driven deforestation

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

A European Commission report that identifies beef, soy and palm oil as contributors to deforestation, has attracted criticism from Greenpeace, who have urged the EU to “break its silence” and take action.

Thereport​, written by Danish consulting group COWI A/S, outlines a package of EU interventions that tackle different aspects of the problem from supply and demand side drivers to the role of finance & investments.

However, according to Greenpeace’s EU forest policy director Sébastien Risso, the interventions do not go far enough to address the situation adding that Europe had ignored its role in global deforestation for long enough.

“The EU must act swiftly to ensure that the food we eat, the energy we use and the banks we save in are no longer destroying forests, fuelling climate change and trampling on indigenous peoples’ rights.

“It’s time for the Commission to break its silence and come forward with strong rules and policies to curb the EU’s forest footprint and support global efforts to halt deforestation.”

Europe’s involvement

According to the EC, the European Union imported and consumed 7-10% of the global consumption of crops and livestock products associated with deforestation in the countries of origin.

This is equivalent to the import and consumption in the EU of a deforested land area of the size of Portugal over the period 1990-2008.

The EU is also among the major global importers of a number of specific commodities associated with deforestation, i.e. palm oil (17%), soy (15%), rubber (25%), beef (41%), maize (30%), cocoa (80%), and coffee (60%).

Whilst acknowledging that the EU is part of the problem, the report thinks the region can be part of the solution.

It identities a series of actions that could act as a starting point to reduce or stop deforestation.

These include initiatives to encourage lower consumption of meat and steps to reduce imports of feed, such as soy, for the EU livestock sector by increasing vegetable protein production in Europe.

New legislation was also proposed to ensure sustainable and deforestation-free agricultural supply chains.

Palm oil demand

The report also highlighted global demand for palm oil as one of the commodities driving legal and illegal deforestation and forest degradation.

The authors believed this was achieved partially through the permanent conversion of forestland into agriculture and pasture for the production of commodities.

Demand is driven by increased food consumption, industrial uses (e.g. biofuels), and the livestock sector, according to the report,

Agricultural outlooks by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Food and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predict a 23% expansion of oil seed production in 2011–2020 and a 45% rise in palm oil output, mainly by Indonesia and Malaysia.

“Palm oil is imported by all regions, but Asia (leading) and Europe (second) import the most,”​ the report highlighted.

“EUs import of palm oil has grown from just short of €814m ($1bn) in 2000 (about 20 % of total) to about €6.9bn ($8.5bn) in 2014 (about 25 % of total).

“After Indonesia and Malaysia as the EU’s main import sources, Brazil, Thailand, and Cambodia complete the list of the five largest palm oil trade partners.”

Transparency commitments

The report closely coincides with another recently released Greenpeace report​, which accuses eight major food brands of keeping quiet over the origins of their palm oil.

This is despite commitments from these firms to stop buying from companies that destroy rainforests.

Eight others that include Nestlé and Unilever have made their palm oil supply chains more transparent.

One of the accused companies, Ferrero said in a statement that the firm “believed that the traceability and transparency of the palm oil supply chain were the first steps towards the true transformation of the entire sector”.

“With this in mind, Ferrero was the first global company in 2015 to source 100% RSPO certified palm oil as segregated.

“Ferrero is committed to transparently communicate about its supply chain and therefore will publicly disclose the full list of the mills it sources from by 15/5/2018. The list will be updated every six months.”

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