Concerns about ongoing clearance and burning of natural forests in the tropics have generated multiple forest and climate initiatives and international forest funds over the past decade. The UN Climate Convention has established the Green Climate Fund to finance forest and climate protection, while governments like the UK, Germany and Norway have established bilateral funds supporting transnational ‘payments for results’ schemes to reward proven reductions in national deforestation rates. Most international forest policy makers now acknowledge that the primary cause of deforestation and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is large-scale forest clearance for industrial land uses propelled by growing global demand for commercial farm land, food, vegetable oils, fibre, biofuels, energy and minerals.

There is growing awareness that the trade in conflict commodities can have a heavy deforestation footprint in tropical forest countries. Over the period 1990- 2008, 27 EU member states imported 10% of global deforestation, of which more than a third was embodied in crop and livestock products exported from Southern forest nations.2 Annual UK imports of palm oil, beef and soybeans alone, for example, require 7.9 million ha of land, often located in areas associated with high deforestation, land conflicts and human rights abuses.3 There is broad consensus that urgent actions are needed to reform ‘forest risk’ and conflict commodity supply chains to eliminate illegal deforestation, stop land grabs, and prevent clearance of high carbon stock and high conservation value forests.

An increasing number of governments, companies and civil society have pledged to work together to achieve “zero deforestation” or “zero net deforestation” by 2020 or to halt or reduce forest loss significantly by 2030 [Tables 1a, 1b, 1c]. For its part, the EU is currently considering options to develop an action plan to tackle imported or ‘embodied’ deforestation through an EU Action Plan on Deforestation and Forest Degradation (EUAPDD).

Name check

conversion timber = wood from forest cut to make way for crops, pastures, plantations or infrastructure10

Fact check

  • Half of tropical wood in international trade is ‘conversion timber’ (much cleared to make way for agribusiness), with at least 1/3 coming from illegal forest conversion.11
  • large industrial mines and medium scale mining make up 10% of deforestation in the Amazon and Central Africa.12
  • Imported palm oil makes up one third of all biodiesel produced and consumed in the EU.13
  • The EU27 imports and consumes more than 1/3 of globally traded crops and livestock products associated with deforestation in tropical forest countries.14
  • EU is the world’s 2nd largest importer of soy products after China (97% of soy used for EU livestock feed is imported).

Forest crisis continues unabated:

Despite the establishment of international forest funds, important global policy gains and zero deforestation pledges, forest destruction is ongoing or even increasing, mostly in tropical countries [Table 2]. Widespread and rampant forest loss continues to result in severe social harm and long-term negative impacts on forest peoples, biodiversity and the climate.38 In 2015-2016, Indonesia lost 840,000 ha of old growth forest. Indonesia’s high rate of forest loss is connected with multiple and widespread land disputes across the country.39

Although elevated rates of forest loss have been cut back in some regions like the Amazon since the 1990s, the pace and intensity of forest clearance is on the rise again. In Peru, annual forest loss tripled between 2001 and 2015 and deforestation increased again by more than 5% in 2016 compared to the previous year.40 In Colombia, deforestation increased by 44% from 2015 to 2016, while violence against rural land and forest defenders is continuing despite the signing of the Peace Agreement.41 In African countries like Liberia and DRC deforestation is likewise on the increase as land is cleared for agribusiness, infrastructure and mining development.42

Fact check

  • In 2017, the Paraguayan Chaco region registered forest loss at more than 500 ha/day, mainly for cattle pasture.43

    In 2015, forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan destroyed or damaged close to 2.6 million hectares of land.

    Indonesia is the world’s 6th largest emitter of GHG emissions, stemming mainly from deforestation and peat drainage for palm oil/pulp plantations.