Forests cover roughly 30% of the world's land area. Besides their intrinsic beauty, richness and unique diversity, they are a major provider of various vital components of a healthy, functioning Earth. They host 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity and are an essential source of timber, food, medicine, fibre and shelter. More than 1.6 billion people rely on forests and their livelihoods and cultural integrity dependent on them. Forests also play a significant role in providing clean air, regulating the water cycle, capturing CO2, and preventing climate change and soil erosion.
However, forests are rapidly disappearing around the world. Deforestation – the permanent destruction of forests and woodlands and conversion to non-forest uses – and forest degradation – the loss of the forests’ capacity to provide their essential goods and services – are the biggest threats to forests. In the last 60 years, more than half of the tropical forests worldwide have been destroyed. While the phenomenon is not new, the current scale and pace of destruction is alarming. In 2017, more than one football pitch of forest was lost every second – the second highest recorded since 2001.
Deforestation occurs most concentrated in tropical rainforests. Tropical forests are disappearing at a rate of about 13 million hectares per year (approximately the size of Greece). This magnitude of destruction has significant social, economic and environmental impacts, not only at local level, but also globally.
Deforestation and forest degradation negatively affect many of the EU’s global objectives in various policy fields such as biodiversity protection, climate change, human rights, peace and security, good governance and the rule of law. Therefore, substantial action to combat deforestation and forest degradation is needed to enable the EU to meet its related international commitments.
On 23 July 2019, the European Commission adopted an EU Communication on Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests .
The Communication has the objective of protecting and improving the health of existing forests, especially primary forests, and significantly increasing sustainable, biodiverse forest coverage worldwide. It sets out five priorities:
Annex I to the Communication proposes actions to be implemented by the European Commission to meet these priorities, while Annex II lists actions recommended to EU national, regional and local authorities, industry and civil society.
Actions proposed also aim at creating a multi-stakeholder platform and an EU Observatory on deforestation and forest degradation, at exploring possible legislative measures, and at reinforcing the implementation of the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, focusing on fighting illegal logging.
A Staff Working Document, accompanying the Communication, presents a synopsis report of consultation results and feedback.
Since 2003, action under the EU FLEGT Action Plan has fought illegal logging and associated trade. Working with partner countries to improve forest governance and capacity building are key components of the Action Plan. One of its central elements, the EU Timber Regulation, obliges operators who place timber and timber products on the EU market to exert due diligence to minimise the risk of importing illegally harvested timber. It also promotes dialogue and cooperation with other major markets. The 2016 evaluation of the EU FLEGT Action Plan concluded that it continues to be a relevant response to the challenge of illegal logging, effective in terms of raising awareness, contributing to forest governance globally, and that it has helped reduce demand for illegal timber in the EU. As announced in the EU Communication on Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests, building on the findings of the evaluation, the Commission services and the Member States have agreed a FLEGT Work Plan 2018-2022, a paper of the Commission services and Member States experts, which is guiding the work for the coming years.
One of the commitments in the EU Communication on Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests was to ‘establish a Platform for multi-stakeholder and Member State dialogue on deforestation, forest degradation and on sustainably increasing world’s forest cover to provide a forum to foster exchanges with and among stakeholders in order to build alliances, push for and share commitments to significantly reduce deforestation, and share experiences and information’. The “Commission Expert Group / Multi-Stakeholder Platform on Protecting and Restoring the World's Forests, including the EU Timber Regulation and the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Regulation” was therefore set up, to act as a forum for Member States and stakeholders to advise the Commission on deforestation and forest degradation related issues on the one hand, and to work together towards a better implementation of the EU Timber Regulation and the FLEGT Regulation on the other hand. The new setting includes Member States’ competent authorities and organisations representing industry, farmers, forest/land owners, trade, civil society and research institutes, based in the EU or in third countries, which have been selected through a call for applications. Here is the list of member organisations for the work on the implementation of the EU Timber Regulation and the FLEGT Regulation and the list of member organisations for the work on deforestation and forest degradation. The group working on deforestation and forest degradation had its first meetings on 1 and 2 October 2020. Summary records of these meetings can be found in the Register of Commission Expert Groups.
As a follow-up to the EU Communication, the Commission launched an open public consultation on “Deforestation and forest degradation – reducing the impact of products placed on the EU market” that closed on 10 December 2020. The results of this consultation – a factual summary report of which is available on the Have Your Say portal – will contribute to an impact assessment that will investigate the suitability of a range of different demand-side measures to address deforestation and forest degradation associated with EU consumption. The consultation objective were twofold: To ensure that all relevant stakeholders wer identified and were given the opportunity to take part in the consultation activities; and to gather stakeholder opinions on the potential additional measures at EU level.
Process towards the adoption of the 2019 Communication
On 14 December 2018, the European Commission published a Roadmap informing citizens on a possible EU initiative on Stepping up EU Action against Deforestation and Forest Degradation. The Roadmap sets out the context and objectives of the initiative and the foreseen consultation, and was open for feedback until 15 January 2019 via this page.
The initiative is a response to the persistence of the issue of global deforestation and the increasing awareness of the link between deforestation and agricultural expansion, as well as repeated calls from the European Parliament and the Council to take action. It recognizes that the EU, as a major importer of agricultural and forest commodities, is part of the problem but can also be part of the solution. The overall objective of the initiative is to step up EU action against tropical deforestation and forest degradation by developing a more coherent and comprehensive approach to the problem. More details can be found in the above Roadmap.
On 14 January 2019, the European Commission launched a public consultation on Stepping up EU Action against Deforestation and Forest Degradation. It was available online until 25 February 2019 on the Commission's Consultations webpage. This questionnaire gave all stakeholders, regardless of their level of expertise, the opportunity to share their views on the issue, to identify the main drivers of deforestation and forest degradation and to indicate EU policy areas and potential interventions that they consider as having the biggest potential to contribute to addressing deforestation and forest degradation.
The 995 provided contributions are available in the attached Excel table. The results have been summarized in the attached Summary Report. A more comprehensive summary report is available here. Some of the respondents provided additional input, which is available by clicking on the hyperlinks in the table.
Other material related to deforestation and forest degradation:
Directorate F “Global Sustainable Development”
Unit F3 “Multilateral Environmental Cooperation”