The trade of deforested products is surging, with UK imports of forest products from deforested areas over the past two years amounting to the destruction of tropical forests twice the size of Paris.
It comes after the country’s largest retailers raised concerns about the new due diligence system, which they claim will lead to chaos.
The UK is the world’s second-largest importer of forest products, with new research from Global Witness and Trase reporting that the inaction over the new Environment Act leaves the country exposed.
Coinciding with the report, Zac Goldsmith, who until July 2023 was the UK’s Minister of State for Overseas Territories, Commonwealth, Energy Climate and Environment, has criticised the Sunak government for not progressing with reforms.
“There has been virtually no progress since the (Environmental Act) law passed, and not a single tropical tree has been saved” since then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the Act at Cop 26 in Glasgow.
Before serving as Minister for the Environment, Mr Goldsmith served as Minister for State for the Pacific and the International Environment, which includes many of the areas where the risk of deforestation is highest.
“It should go without saying that there is no solution to climate change. Indeed, there is no future for our species if we fail to halt the loss of the world’s great forests. So the government needs to stop with the delays and u-turns and get on with it.”
The report reveals the UK’s direct import of seven’ forest risk’ commodities associated with deforestation, including palm oil, soy, and cattle products, carrying the highest risk of coming from deforested areas.
Of the 20,400 hectares of deforestation linked to imports between November 2021 and July 2023, Global Witness reports that 8,800 hectares are linked to palm oil, 3,470 hectares to soy, and 2,950 hectares to cattle products.
“These figures are very likely to be a significant underestimate, as they only related to the importation of raw commodities and exclude processed products that include forest-risk ingredients, such as chocolate,” according to a Global Witness statement.
Almost three-quarters of the destruction occurred in Indonesian and Brazilian rainforests, “with the top six producer countries including Indonesia (7,840 ha), Brazil (7,310 ha), Papua New Guinea (1,020 ha), Malaysia (968 ha), Colombia (873 ha), and Ivory Coast (852 ha).”
Veronica Oakeshott, Global Witness Head of the Forest Campaign, calls on the UK government to align the UK legislation with the new EU Deforestation Regulation.
“The government must listen to UK retailers and fully align with the EU’s deforestation regulation, which covers all forest-risk commodities,” she said.
“It is outrageous that Defra is failing to press the green light on simple regulations needed to stop the UK importation of forest destruction. If the UK wants to be seen as a climate leader, it must act now.”
In May, the European Parliament approved the EUDR, which from 2024 mandates that companies prove their products do not originate from deforested or forest-degraded lands, or they may face substantial penalties.
The regulation introduces a benchmarking system that assigns a risk level – low, standard, or high – associated with deforestation and forest degradation to countries both inside and outside the EU.