The UK’s consumption of commodities like soy, cocoa, palm oil, beef and leather is putting enormous pressure on forests around the world, MPs have warned.
The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) called on the Government to act with urgency as it released a 66-page report on Britain’s contribution to tackling global deforestation on Thursday.
The committee said the intensity of the UK’s consumption on the world’s forests – when measured by its footprint per tonne of product consumed – is higher than that of China.
EAC chair Philip Dunne said this “should serve as a wake-up call to the Government”.
It comes after the Government announced that four commodities – cattle products (excluding dairy), cocoa, palm oil and soy – will have to be certified as “sustainable” if they are to be sold into UK markets.
The Government, which plans to gradually incorporate more products into the regime over time, has yet to provide a date for when the legislation will be introduced.
The committee said it is concerned this lack of timeline and its phased approach does not reflect the necessity of tackling deforestation urgently.
The report said: “The failure to include commodities such as maize, rubber and coffee within this scope does not demonstrate the level of urgency required to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.”
The EAC, which outlined a series of recommendations in the report, urged the Government to address these gaps and strengthen the existing legislative framework to ban businesses from trading or using commodities linked to deforestation.
It also called on ministers to develop a global footprint indicator to demonstrate the UK’s deforestation impact to the public and set a target to reduce it.
The committee said it heard concerns there is a lack of transparency over how planned investments into nature and climate programmes – including £1.5 billion earmarked for deforestation – will be spent and called for more clarity from ministers.
The MPs said they were also alarmed to hear from campaign group Global Witness that one person is killed every other day defending land and the environment.
They said support for indigenous peoples to participate fully in negotiations on deforestation activity is critical.
To fulfil its commitment to put environmental sustainability measures at the heart of global production and trade, the EAC repeated its calls for sustainability impact assessments to be conducted for all future trade agreements.
Mr Dunne said: “UK consumption is having an unsustainable impact on the planet at the current rate.
“UK markets must not be flooded with products that threaten the world’s forests, the people whose livelihoods rely on them and the precious ecosystems that call them home.
“There is little sense of urgency about getting a rapid grip on the problem of deforestation, which needs to match the rhetoric.
“Countries all around the world contribute to deforestation and the international community of course needs to do much more to tackle deforestation.”
He added: “To demonstrate genuine global leadership in this critical area, the UK must demonstrate domestic policy progress and embed environmental and biodiversity protections in future trade deals.”
Alexandria Reid, senior global policy adviser at Global Witness, who gave evidence to the inquiry, said: “The findings are clear, the UK will not reach net zero while British banks continue to fuel, and profit from, rampant deforestation of our climate-critical forests overseas.
“The Government will miss the global deadline to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030 unless it acts now.”
Kate Norgrove, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF, said: “Despite some progress, this report shows that the UK Government needs to do much more to save our forests, which are one of our strongest allies in the fight against climate change.
“Every hectare of forest we lose takes us closer to runaway climate change which will be devastating for us all.”
Clare Oxborrow, forests campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “The committee is right to highlight the many flaws in the Government’s plans to curb deforestation.
“Not least, the failure to include all high-risk commodities as part of its proposed new deforestation law, as well as the fact that it will only apply to illegal logging, which is notoriously difficult to determine.
“We’re already seeing the very real impacts of climate and ecological breakdown both here in the UK and globally, through extremes such as searing heat, storms and floods, and this is only set to intensify.”
A Government spokesperson said: “The UK is leading the way globally with new legislation to tackle illegal deforestation to make sure we rid UK supply chains of products contributing to the destruction of these vital habitats.
“This legislation has already been introduced through the Environment Act and is just one of many measures to halt and reverse global forest loss.
“We are also investing in significant international programmes to restore forests, which have avoided over 410,000 hectares of deforestation to date alongside supporting new green finance streams.”
Published: by Radio NewsHub