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Marie Toussaint, deputy head of the Green Group in the European Parliament. Photo: Sebastien Salom-Gomis/AFP

The news is out: the European Union now has a law to prevent global and imported deforestation. The EU has adopted a regulation (with a direct effect on its member states) that prevents further damage to global forests as a result of EU consumption and actions. The Amazon rainforest, as well as other forests around the globe such as the rainforests of Indonesia and the Congo Basin, must now be protected from further EU predation.

The global forest-footprint of the European Union has increased over recent years, and contributed 16% of global deforestation in 2021. This makes the European Union the planet’s number one deforester. Action is long overdue. The text of the new regulations is a global first, and despite its loopholes, shows a determination from the European Union to stop destroying ecosystems for its own consumption and to become a leader on the global stage.

What will change?

The actions that need to be undertaken concern mostly the member states, and the traders and operators of products linked to deforestation. All EU companies and all those companies who put products on the European internal market, or export them, will have to answer to due diligence obligations. More concretely, these companies will have to show that none of the following products they trade have created deforestation after 31st December 2020: timber, cattle, soya, cocoa, coffee, palm oil and its derivatives except for biodiesel, rubber, charcoal or printed paper. Biodiesel and maize might be added to the list in two years, after appropriate impact assessments. Of course, some products are missing: unfortunately, we will still have to fight for avocado, among others, to also be included in the list. While writing these words, I have a strong thought for the Colombians who are fighting in their territory against the destruction of the forest for avocado production aimed at EU consumption…

You might also wonder: how does the EU define a forest? Does it concern my own land?

Well, the EU decided to stick to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation definition of a forest, which unfortunately omits “other wooded land” (used to describe the ecosystems of the Brazilian Cerrado and the Argentinian Pantanal, that are only partly covered by the FAO definition) and “other ecosystems”, which would have allowed mangroves to be protected. Here again, a revision of the regulation was required by the European Parliament, and the EU might enlarge the current obligations to these additional forest ecosystems in the coming two years. Though we did not manage to cover all trees and territories, we did succeed in forbidding companies to trade products that cause forest degradation, meaning “structural changes to forest cover, taking the form of the conversion of primary forest or naturally regenerating forest into plantation forest or into other wooded land and the conversion of primary forest into planted forest”. The inclusion of “degraded forest” was a huge win, since without this companies could have avoided the FAO definition of a forest and its related obligations by leaving 10% of the tree cover tree and destroying the remains… It has to be underlined that carbon dioxide emissions related to forest degradation are counted at the same level as pure deforestation.

To implement the new regulations, the European Commission will have to categorise countries according to their deforestation and degradation risks. The level of obligations and of checks and controls will depend on three categories: low, standard and high-risk countries with respectively 1%, 3% and 9% checks. When the companies are caught, during those checks, in not respecting their due diligence obligations by the Member States, penalties should be applied. These include fines of up to 4% of their EU annual turnover, being deprived of public subsidies or denial of access to the EU market. The competent authorities will have access to the relevant information provided by the companies on the farmland where the commodities have been grown, with the help of a methodology of “geolocation” through polygons, satellite monitoring tools and DNA analysis.

Financial operators, including banks and insurers, have not been included among those who do have obligations under the EU regulation. This is a shame, considering European banks have benefited from more than 400 million euros of benefits from activities linked to deforestation between 2016 and 2020. But this crucial fight is not over, since the EU will have to come up with an assessment of impacts and feasibility within two years.

How can this regulation be enforced in the Amazon?

Access to justice is not an innate quality of the European Union, so we had to be very precise to ensure that affected individuals or legal entities should be able to reach out to European law. Worse: the Regulation barely addresses the impacts of deforestation on human rights. It only insists on free, prior and informed consent and respect for international agreements if countries have integrated those rules within their national legislations. However, as we have already witnessed in cases brought in France against Casino and BNP Paribas for violation of due diligence legislation, there will be a possibility for NGOs and campaigners to raise alarms, and launch lawsuits, in cases where obligations are egregiously disrespected.

This EU legislation aims to protect biodiversity, maintain a stable climate, and secure fresh water. We, the Greens politicians of the planet, will need to work closely with experts and NGOs in order to ensure the new obligations are respected, and to assess whether they are sufficient to protect forests and people’s rights. That’s a mission for us together. A small nuance though: the Regulation will come into force  in 18 months, which giges time for member states and companies, but also for us forest protectors and guardians, to be ready. The next steps: recognition of forests’ rights, condemnation of ecocide, and a global agreement on biodiversity.


The global forest-footprint of the European Union has increased over recent years, and contributed 16% of global deforestation in 2021. This makes the EU the planet’s number one deforester. In the image, deforested area in the Amazon. Photo: Pablo Albarenga/SUMAÚMA

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