A new ‘green deal’ in the EU impacts coffee

The European Union has agreed on a new law to fight global deforestation and forest degradation driven by EU production and consumption.

The proposed legislation, which was announced 6 December, aims to prevent companies from selling items such as coffee, cocoa, beef, soy and other commodities linked to deforestation around the world into the EU market. The proposal is part of a broader plan of actions to tackle deforestation and forest degradation first outlined in the 2019 Commission Communication on Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests. It is believed that this initial step should help stop a significant share of global deforestation and forest degradation, and in turn, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss. The announcement came on the eve the Conference on Biodiversity (COP15) (taking place 7-19 December in Montréal, Canada), where countries are meeting to develop goals to protect nature for decades to come.

Deforestation and forest degradation are major drivers of climate change and biodiversity loss (T&CTJ has been covering these environmental challenges since 2018: Tea and Coffee March 2018 (flickread.com). The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that 420 million hectares of forest (an area larger than the European Union) were lost to deforestation between 1990 and 2020. For example, Brazil, the world’s largest coffee producer is also Brazil, the country responsible for the most deforestation — but coffee is certainly not the only commodity at fault, nor the primary one.

Additionally, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that 23% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (between 2007 and 2016) come from agriculture, forestry and other land uses. The IPCC further reported that about 11% of overall emissions are from forestry and other land use, mostly deforestation, while the remaining 12% are direct emissions from agricultural production such as livestock and fertilisers.

Once the new law is adopted and applied, all relevant companies must produce a due diligence statement showing their supply chains are not contributing to the destruction of forests before they sell the identified goods into the EU or export — or they could face substantial fines. In addition to coffee, cocoa, cattle, and soy, other commodities on the list include palm oil, timber and rubber as well as derived products (such as beef, chocolate or furniture). According to a press release issued by the European Commission, these commodities were chosen because of a thorough impact assessment identifying them as the main driver of deforestation due to agricultural expansion.

The new regulation ensures transparency and traceability as it compels companies to show when and where the commodities were produced and provide verifiable proof that they were not grown on land deforested after 31 December 2020. Companies will also be required to collect precise geographical information on the farmland where the commodities that they source have been grown, so that these commodities can be checked for compliance.

The European Commission will run a benchmarking system that will assess countries or parts thereof and their level of risk of deforestation and forest degradation – a high, standard or low risk.

“Through this agreement…the EU is sending a strong signal to the rest of the world that it is determined to address global deforestation that contributes massively to the climate crisis and the loss of our natural environment. To succeed we will build efficient and close cooperation with both consumer and producer countries to ensure a smooth process,” said Virginijus Sinkevičius, commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries in a 4 December statement.

While many applaud the proposed legislation, some critics say it is costly, while others worry that sustainable production is not being adequately recognized, and others point out that certification is difficult to monitor. And some opponents feel the new regulation does not extend protection to ‘other wooded land’ that has trees but is not a dense, closed forest.

The European Parliament and EU countries must now formally approve the new legislation before it can be adopted. Once the regulation is enacted, operators and traders will have 18 months to implement the new rules (micro and small enterprises will have a longer adaptation period, as well as other specific provisions). The EU said it would work with affected countries to build up their capacity to implement the rules.

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