In the last decade, an area larger than Germany was lost to deforestation and the EU is partly to blame. A recent WWF report highlights the causal relationship between global deforestation and EU imports, linking 10% of all deforestation to the EU’s demand for goods like soy, wood, palm oil and beef. Due to this demand, 43 million hectares of forest is gone forever.
At a January climate summit in Paris, the EU renewed calls to tackle deforestation, viewing forests as a crucial defence in the global fight against climate change. Not only are forests home to the vast majority of wildlife, they also serve as natural carbon regulators. Each year forests absorb one-third of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels. Yet, deforestation occurs at alarming rates in developing countries as they make room for soy, beef, cocoa, coffee and palm oil plantations, the lifeblood of many emerging economies.
Many of these products contribute to the EU’s problem of ‘imported deforestation’. Although the EU is putting in measures to address deforestation at home, the pressure is mounting to address its culpability in global deforestation — especially considering 87% of EU citizens believe laws should prevent these products from being sold in the EU.
What these laws would look like is unclear, but if previous policies are anything to go off of then it could be another glaring example of EU hypocrisy and deflection.
Take palm oil for example. The EU waged war on Indonesian and Malaysian palm oil for its connection to deforestation and pledged to ban the vegetable oil by 2030. Palm oil imports were replaced with coconut, rapeseed and soybean oil, which require 4 to 10 times more land — and more fertilizers — to produce the same amount of oil. Ultimately, the EU’s boycott on palm oil actually contributed to more deforestation and pollution.
Further, while the EU wages war on commodities like palm oil in the name of deforestation, the bloc continues to import the biggest culprits: beef and soy. Together, beef and soy contribute over two-thirds of deforestation in tropical rainforests across Latin America. The EU’s disjointed approach — strong legislation to limit palm oil imports while increasing beef imports — makes no environmental sense.
Since the 1970s, Latin America has witnessed a 94% decline in wildlife. This is nowhere more serious than in the Amazon, where deforestation, particularly in Brazil, has surged to a 12-year high. Now scientists warn the Amazon is not merely on the verge of a tipping point, but is rapidly approaching a stage beyond recovery. Yet, while 80% of the Amazon’s deforestation is directly connected to beef, this is still widely consumed across Europe with little scrutiny.
The EU-Mercosur trade deal, a proposed free-trade arrangement between the South American trade bloc and the EU, will only increase beef imports from Amazon countries. Although the trade deal has yet to be approved, mostly due to backlash from countries like France questioning its impact on deforestation, the EU continues to ignore its environmental commitments and instead prioritise value chains.
Besides the EU-Mercosur trade pact, the EU is considering free trade deals with Tunisia (ALECA) and Canada (CETA), both which have been internally and externally criticised as models which place profit over environment. Indeed, if the EU-Mercosur trade deal passed, it would give countries like Brazil the green light to continue destroying its tropical rainforests in the name of profit.
However, it’s not simply a matter of blaming Brazil or condemning deforestation through boycotts targeting certain commodities. The EU should recognize that it consumed excesses of carbon on its pathway to wealth and using this influence to criticise developing countries who cannot afford a sustainable path is hypocritical at best. For example, the EU plans to impose a carbon tax which would tax foreign imports on their carbon footprint, a move which would undercut African, Asian and Central American industries who do not yet have the means to transition to renewable energy. Most detrimentally, the plan includes no support for green initiatives, limiting chances for environmental and economic equity.
Instead of this inequal approach to addressing the climate crisis, the EU could assist the developing world by embracing an adaptable sustainable path through policies and measures which help these nations abandon fossil fuels in a realistic and economical way. The EU needs a more consistent approach to both the environment and sustainable development, domestically and abroad.
If the events of the past year have taught us anything, it’s that our relationship with nature is symbiotic, and if abused, dangerous. Now, more than ever, it is time for the EU to holistically examine the policies and deals it is trying to enforce. Trade cannot come at the cost of the planet.
By Muhammed Magassy
Original link: https://mondediplo.com/outsidein/eu-mercosur