CoP28: EIA welcomes UK Gov’t commitment to tackling deforestation – with some concerns

The UK Government is to seek to tackle deforestation by addressing problems in the country’s international supply chains.

It has set out initial details of its plans to lay secondary regulations to Schedule 17 of the UK Environment Act; secondary regulations are additional laws made under the authority of the primary legislation, in this case the Environment Act.

The announcement was made on Nature Day at the UN’s CoP28 climate summit on 9 December and includes the list of commodities – the raw materials used to create the products consumers buy – to be covered by the secondary regulations: beef, leather, palm, soy and cocoa.

Oil palm plantation on deforested land, Indonesia (c) EIA

It further stipulates that only businesses with a global annual turnover of more than £50 million and which use over 500 tonnes of regulated commodities per year will be covered and states that unlimited financial penalties will be a part of the sanctions.

EIA welcomes this announcement, which will help to ensure products bought in the UK do not harm the world’s forests.

However, the legislation falls short when it comes to protecting the people who rely on forests and it is concerning that many businesses will still be free to import products linked to deforestation since the regulations will apply only to large businesses.

EIA Senior Forests Campaigner Sophie Bennett said: “We have been waiting for these secondary regulations, which will bring the due diligence provisions in the UK Environment Act into force, since the Act received Royal Assent in November 2021.

“However, the Government has still not set a definite timeframe for laying the secondary regulations, only stating that they will be laid when parliamentary time allows.

As the Government itself highlights in its announcement, an area the size of the UK is ploughed up each year to meet our domestic demand for commodities – deforestation and its contribution to biodiversity loss and climate change is a critical issue requiring urgent action.”

A view of a burnt forest

Indonesia forest land cleared for palm oil (c) EIA

In recognition of how our consumption of certain commodities contributes to deforestation, the European Union has already brought into force the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) in June 2023.

And on 5 December 2023, the United States re-introduced the US FOREST Act, aimed at fighting illegal logging and environmental crime, ambitious legislation which would incorporate the impact of deforestation into the financial crime statutes so that profits made from deforestation can be addressed by law.

Both the EUDR and the US FOREST Act (if enacted) take into account the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities as well as the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

EIA supports the UK Government’s approach to legality in respecting the laws of producer countries, but equitable laws are vital if this legislation is to be successful. Investing through partnerships with producer countries would be essential to ensure reform within the sector.

EIA will work to push for the swift publication of the secondary regulations and for them to reflect the level of ambition required to tackle deforestation in a meaningful way.