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Studies on EU action to combat deforestation and palm oil


Deforestation is the permanent conversion of forest land into other land-uses.

The drivers of deforestation are multiple and complex, and depend on specific regional and national contexts. However, FAO (2016) shows how agricultural expansion for the production of commodities (e.g. soy, beef, palm oil, coffee, cocoa) drives almost 80% of all deforestation, while mining and urbanisation/infrastructure were responsible for less than 10% each. EU demand contributes to the problem. According to an EC study published in 2013, the EU27 imported and consumed 7-10% of the global consumption of crops and livestock products associated with deforestation in the countries of origin. This is equivalent to the import and consumption in the EU of a deforested land area of the size of Portugal over the period 1990-2008. The EU is also among the major global importers of a number of specific commodities associated with deforestation, i.e. palm oil (17%), soy (15%), rubber (25%), beef (41%), maize (30%), cocoa (80%), and coffee (60%).

As a follow-up to the study published in 2013 on the impact of EU consumption on deforestation, the European Commission launched in 2016 a study to assess the feasibility of options to step up EU action against deforestation.

In parallel, the Commission launched a dedicated study on the environmental impact of palm oil consumption and on existing sustainability standards with a view to strengthening the knowledge-base on a subject which is prominent in the public debate both at EU level and in many Member States.

The findings are the outcome of the work of the consortia carrying out the studies, and are not endorsed by the European Commission.

Study objectives

  • Study on the feasibility of options to step up EU action to combat deforestation and forest degradation

    The study reviews relevant EU policies, legislation and initiatives and ongoing international and regional efforts by private sector, governments and civil society. Building on a problem analysis, the report makes suggestions on the framing of a possible EU initiative to tackle deforestation and its root causes and drivers. This includes proposed specific objectives and a range of potential EU interventions tackling different dimension of the problem (supply and demand side drivers, as well as the role of finance & investments). All identified interventions are assessed against a shared set of assessment criteria: feasibility and effectiveness; political acceptability, technical complexity; and administrative costs. A key conclusion of the study is that given the complexity of the problem, any potential EU initiative should consider a package of interventions which addresses the supply, demand and finance dimensions, building on and reinforcing existing EU action as well as government and private sector commitments on zero deforestation and other relevant international initiatives.

    The study on the feasibility of options to step up EU action against deforestation has been carried out over a two year period by a consortium led by COWI, and including Ecofys and Milieu.

  • Study on the environmental impact of palm oil consumption and on existing sustainability standards

    The study reviews environmental, social and economic aspects of palm oil production and consumption, and analyses existing palm oil sustainability initiatives.

    As such, the objectives of this study are to:

    • Broaden the knowledge base on the environmental, social and economic aspects of oil palm production and palm oil consumption, trade flows in palm kernel oil, and actions undertaken by economic operators, EU governments and third parties (in particular India and China) focusing on palm oil.

    • Analyse existing sustainability standards and schemes (including RSPO, ISPO and MSPO), evaluate their completeness (especially concerning biodiversity and carbon aspects) and map such schemes and how they relate to the environmental objectives in relevant EU and international policy instruments.

    • Summarise and examine existing initiatives at the EU level and in EU Member States, as well as in India and China, concerning sustainable production and consumption of palm oil.

The study has been carried out over a one year period by a consortium led by 3KEEL LLP and including LMC International Ltd.

Next steps

The Commission is assessing whether and how it will follow-up on this study.

Download the study reports:

The information and views set out in this study are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the Commission. The Commission does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this study. Neither the Commission nor any person acting on the Commission's behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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