Deforestation: causes and how the EU is tackling it
24 January 2023
Nowadays, the rate of forest loss around the planet is worrying. In fact, at least 420 million hectares of forest were lost due to deforestation between 1990 and 2020 according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, an area the size of the EU.
Nonetheless, although both processes are discouraging and damaging, they should not be confused; deforestation is the destruction of forests so the land can be put to other uses, while forest degradation is a more gradual process related to the loss of the capacity of forests to produce essential benefits, such as wood or biodiversity.
These processes take place mainly in the three major forest basins of the Amazon (South America), Congo (Central Africa) and Southeast Asia. However, forest loss is a global problem that the EU wants to tackle to combat environmental damage and climate change.
Actually, a clear proof of that is the forest increasing between the same period it was lost in other areas of the globe (between 1990 and 2020). What’s more, they have presented a whole project in order to try to contain the situation. For that reason, in this note we’re going to tell you the causes of deforestation, some goods produced on deforested lands, and how the EU’s initiative works.
What are the causes of deforestation and forest degradation?
First of all, we have to be clear. Deforestation and forest degradation are mainly due to human activities, let’s see some of them.
In the first place, we have agriculture, the main driver of deforestation in all regions except Europe. Forests being converted into cropland is the main driver of forest loss. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, it causes at least 50% of global deforestation, mainly for oil palm and soybean production.
On the other hand, urban and infrastructure development, including construction and road expansion represent the third biggest cause of global deforestation, accounting for slightly more than 6% of the total. In Europe it is the main cause of deforestation.
Overexploitation of wood resources
Other damaging activities related to human actions include overexploitation of wood, including for fuel, and illegal or unsustainable logging.
Last but not least, climate change This is both a cause and a consequence of deforestation and forest degradation. The extreme events it triggers, such as fires, droughts, and floods, affect forests. In turn, forest loss is harmful for the climate, as forests play a significant role in providing clean air, regulating the water cycle, capturing CO2, preventing biodiversity loss, and preventing soil erosion.
The EU’s consumption of goods produced on deforested lands
Now, we have to take a look at the main products imported by the EU from deforested land (according to the European Commission’s impact assessment). Because, as you see, EU consumption accounts for about 10% of global deforestation.
- Palm oil 34%
- Soya 32.8%
- Wood 8.6%
- Cocoa 7.5%
- Coffee 7%
- Rubber 3.4%
- Maize 1.6%
Then, it’s time to see what the EU is trying to do to fight deforestation issues.
Towards an EU regulation on deforestation-free products
As you can see through this article, deforestation and forest degradation are having an impact on the EU’s environmental objectives, such as combating climate change and biodiversity loss, but also on human rights, peace, and security. That is why the EU is striving to combat global forest loss.
To begin with, in September 2022, Parliament adopted its position on the European Commission’s regulation on deforestation-free products, which will oblige companies to verify that products sold in the EU have not been produced on deforested or degraded land.
Moreover, Parliament wants to add more items to the list and ensure that human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples are respected. Likewise, in July 2021, the Commission presented the New EU Forestry Strategy 2030, which aims to increase the quantity and quality of EU forests and promote their role as carbon sinks.