Governments urged to reconsider bid to delay deforestation law

Governments urged to reconsider bid to delay deforestation law

Environmental organisations urged governments not to back-pedal on new legislation to prevent deforestation linked to goods sold on the EU market, after a large majority of agriculture ministers lined up behind a call to postpone the law which is due to take effect at the end of this year.

In an open letter to EU governments today (28 March) some three dozen NGOs including forest action group Fern and the legal charity Client Earth reacted with alarm to an “urgent call for action” tabled by Austria at an EU Council summit on Tuesday, demanding the implementation period be “significantly extended”, with blanket exemptions for “safe countries” and for small-scale producers within the EU.

The call was endorsed by Finland, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden, and Austrian agriculture minister Norbert Totschnig subsequently said his initiative had been supported by “an overwhelming majority” of 20 member states. “We now urge the Commission for a temporary suspension of the regulation allowing for a feasible implementation accompanied by a revision of the regulation,” he said in a statement.

“The EU must uphold its commitment to combat global deforestation and forest degradation both at home and abroad. Any delay in implementation would hamper its credibility," the NGOs wrote, adding: “We urge all Member States to be at the forefront of a fast and effective implementation of [EU Deforestation Regulation] EUDR, instead of falling for industries’ lobbying efforts.”

Their letter also cites recent reports by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists suggesting the authorities in several EU countries have allocated insufficient resources to implementing the new law.

After 30 December, or six months later for small businesses, it will be illegal to place cattle, cocoa, coffee, oil palm, rubber, soya, wood, or a range of derivatives, on the EU market without conducting rigorous due diligence and producing detailed certification. Julia Christian, a forest campaigner with Fern in Brussels, said there were signs the groundbreaking law was already prompting “structural improvements on the ground in tropical forested countries”.

“If this attempt to undermine it succeeds, then the message to the rest of the world will be clear: Europe is happy to take decisive action to end the destruction of forests abroad, but isn't prepared to do so at home,” Christian said.

The Austrian initiative came amid controversy over efforts within the EU Council to back-pedal on several pieces of provisional Green Deal environmental legislation, which would have meant effectively reneging on hard-won political agreements with the European Parliament. This latest bid calls for the adjustment of a law that is already in force just months before it is due to take effect, a move the NGOs said was “in opposition of EU democratic principles”.