We urge the new UK Government to seize the opportunity to proactively protect forests

Following the UK’s historic election, EIA welcomes new Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer and urges his new Government to take a positive and proactive approach to forest protection.

Forests are being converted to agricultural land at an ever-increasing rate while global demand for timber is exponentially rising, contributing to climate chaos and insecurity. This makes the need for governments to act ever more pressing.

Given that the UK’s consumption of goods has a bigger impact on the world’s forests than China, key to this will be halting and reversing deforestation, forest degradation and other forms of ecosystem degradation and strengthening international partnerships to do so, to ensure we are at the forefront of efforts to meet Paris Agreement targets by 2030.

Oil palm plantation, East Kalimantan, Indonesia (c) EIA

We hope the new Government will be more ambitious than previous years in tackling this vital task and meeting the country’s international climate and biodiversity commitments.

As part of these efforts, the previous UK Government sought to tackle deforestation through the inclusion of Schedule 17 in the Environment Act to ensure forest-risk products (such as beef, leather, palm oil, soy and cocoa) sold in the UK are not illegally produced.

However, this part of the Act is not yet in force — we have waited since the Act was passed in November 2021 for publication of secondary regulations to Schedule 17, which will bring it into force, and have seen only initial details of what was planned to be covered.

These long-awaited regulations represent a significant opportunity to be bold and demonstrate the level of ambition the new Government has for addressing the UK’s contribution to global deforestation.

The new Government is in a strong position to take up the mantle by strengthening this legislation and bringing it into force with the necessary urgency.

As set out in our briefing Making the Law Work: The Environmental Investigation Agency’s response to the UK Government’s legislation on forest-risk commodities, it is crucial that the scope of laws the legislation covers is made clear and is as wide as possible, incorporating all major forest-risk commodities associated with the UK’s deforestation footprint (soy, palm oil, cocoa, maize, cattle beef and leather, rubber and coffee) from the start.

Forests can help fight climate change – but only if we stop cutting them down (c) EIA

On this and in other areas, the new Government must meet the level of ambition demonstrated by the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) in order to regain its world-leading position on this crucial issue.

To do this, EIA recommends extending the scope of this regulation to include not only what is ‘legal’ under local laws, but also human rights abuses and environmental harms beyond deforestation and to include other sectors, notably finance and mining.

The Government should also clearly set out the need for businesses to respect indigenous peoples and local communities’ (IPLCs’) rights to land, territories and resources and commit to the explicit evaluation of the legislation’s impact on IPLC rights.

Furthermore, the Government should reassess the previously proposed thresholds which would see the legislation apply only to companies with a global turnover of more than £50 million and which use in excess of 500 tonnes of a commodity.

Instead, the legislation should apply to a broad and meaningful set of companies.

(c) EIA

Data from the legislation must also be made openly available for civil society to support enforcement and promote transparency.

The financing of deforestation must be addressed at the earliest opportunity with a commitment to regulate the financial sector in relation to activities linked to deforestation. In relation to Government procurement, the Government Buying Standards must also be mandatory for all public sector bodies and revised to ensure production is legal and sustainable, not just relying on certification.

Another key area for the Government is the need to set up multi-stakeholder partnership processes to support and strengthen good forest governance in countries and provide a space for constructive dialogue between governments, industry and a wide range of civil society representation, including IPLCs. This should comprise regular dialogue with producer and demand-side stakeholders, meaningful consultation, increased transparency and multi-stakeholder groups for the UK and producer countries to provide ongoing input into all stages of the process.

In the meantime, looking beyond the Environment Act to other legislation, we urge the Government to continue to strengthen the implementation and enforcement of the UK Timber Regulation (UKTR). Similarly, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) must be strengthened in order to halt the significant, ongoing decline in biodiversity.

The climate and nature crisis was recognised in the Labour Party manifesto as “the greatest long-term global challenge that we face” and we look forward to working with the new Government to tackle this urgent crisis with optimism at the opportunity this landmark political victory signals.