EU Proposal on regulation on deforestation-free products risks neglecting critical ecosystems

EU Proposal on regulation on deforestation-free products risks neglecting critical ecosystems
Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park - part of the Cerrado Protected Areas

Since November 2021, policy makers from across the EU have been negotiating a common position on how it should tackle deforestation caused by imports of key forest-risk commodities such as palm oil, beef, soy, cocoa, coffee and timber.

The EU Council´s Ad hoc Working Party on the risk of deforestation and forest degradation associated with products placed on the EU market (AHWP DF) met on the 22nd and 23rd of November to determine the remit of the anti-deforestation law, and on 5 December they are set to agree on a final proposal for their regulation on deforestation-free products. The law aims to reduce deforestation associated with the main commodities consumed in the European Union, as well as protect human rights.

During negotiations it became clear that only forests as defined by FAO would be included within the law without ”Other Wooded Lands” , meaning non-forest tree-rich biomes will lack protection. One of these is the Cerrado, a diverse but threatened savanna ecoregion in Brazil. The Cerrado was included when members of the European Parliament voted in favour of a proposal for the law to ban the sale of agricultural products linked to the destruction of forests in the EU. However, this does not guarantee its inclusion in the final regulation. As highlighted in a Science Advances study led by NbSI Research Fellow Aline Soterroni, the Cerrado biome in Brazil is a tropical savanna and an important global biodiversity hot-spot, which today only has a fraction of its original area remaining undisturbed, and this habitat is at risk of conversion to agriculture, especially to soybeans. Soterroni’s work revealed that a zero conversion agreement for soy in the Brazilian Cerrado has the potential to avoid significant losses of this critical ecosystem whilst not compromising agricultural production and soybean expansion. The study also points to the fact that leakage would decrease the effectiveness of the agreement. “Political will and local governance is key to halting ecosystem conversion in Brazil, but in the particular case of Cerrado the full implementation of the Forest Code would not be enough to protect this already largely exploited biome. Due diligence such as the EU anti-deforestation bill is welcomed and needed but the incorporation of Cerrado’s vegetation is key. Without it the bill’s impact in fighting ecosystem losses in Brazil will be much smaller, and may even increase Cerrado’s loss due to leakage”, Soterroni says.

Brazilian organisations, including the Institute for Society Population and Nature (ISPN), Brazil’s Indigenous People Articulation (APIB), National Coordination of Articulation of Rural Black Quilombola Communities (CONAQ), Association of Rural Workers Lawyers (AATR), the National Campaign in Defense of the Cerrado, and the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT – Cerrado Articulation) are calling for the inclusion of the Cerrado ecoregion within these regulations, as “the area with greatest socio-environmental impact from European trade”. NbSI supports this call to include Other Wooded Lands within the EU anti-deforestation law, as the protection of non-forest wooded areas can secure and regulate water supplies, support sustainable agricultural production, and protect communities and infrastructure from floods, soil erosion and landslides.

Read more about the proposal for a regulation on deforestation-free products on the European Commission website, and the view of the Brazilian consortium in a press release from Observatório do Clima.