“Every year the world loses roughly 10 million hectares of forests. The EU is the biggest importer per capita of products which have caused deforestation so it bears a huge responsibility. But it has only tackled its role in illegal logging.

Petition in Brussels against deforestation

Hope for an EU Action Plan on Deforestation has been building in Civil Society for many years, and the campaign to achieve it has been a real roller-coaster. The EU has given signals that it will act, but then repeatedly failed to say what path it will take. 

But we kept pushing. In 2018 we really increased the pressure – and finally, in December, the Commission produced a roadmap for action.

The pressure came from various fronts. For a start, there’s a growing public awareness that people can’t rely on companies to tell them if what they’re buying is fair and sustainable, or helping destroy the planet.

Fern team speaking to an EU representative about the EU action plan

A petition calling for an EU Action Plan, which we helped launch in May, was a great illustration of the strength of public feeling on this: more than 200,000 people eventually signed it, and it was delivered to the European Commission’s Vice President’s office by a delegation of Indigenous Peoples.

In 2018 we also organised an exhibition featuring artists from Brazil and Colombia. It spoke to hearts and minds, because you could see the destruction of the Amazon in their work, and hear from them about its impact on forests and peoples. MEPs from different parties stood shoulder to shoulder with the artists, saying how unacceptable it was that the EU hadn’t acted.

Art piece from the exhibition against the the destruction of the Amazon

Companies also felt the pressure in 2018. For example the investigative report, The Avoidable Crisis, which we released in March with our partners Mighty Earth and Rainforest Foundation Norway, revealed the devastating impact in South America of the soy the EU imports for its feedstock. It got a lot of media attention, including in El Pais, Le Monde and various TV channels.

Another front for pressure on the Commission came from governments and politicians.

The Amsterdam declaration group – France, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Norway and the UK – told the Commission that the EU needed to act, because individual governments could not stop deforestation alone. Belgium later joined them in this call. The European Parliament was also very vocal in co-operating with civil society.

Women looking at art piece from the exhibition

Changes in the geo-political landscape gave momentum – and urgency - to the campaign for an EU Action Plan on Deforestation. Specifically, the election in Brazil of [Jair] Bolsonaro, was rightly seen as a huge threat to Indigenous Peoples and the environment.

And given the EU’s close trading ties with Brazil, it put the spotlight on what the EU can practically do – using its diplomatic and trade clout - in an environment where laws are being changed and human rights are not being respected.

Fern team speaking to an EU representative about the EU action plan

While the Commission’s roadmap is a significant breakthrough, we still have everything to fight for. The Commission doesn't say anything about how the EU will really curb its consumption so it's unclear whether the EU will take strong action.

It took five years for the Commission to publish its plan of action, and it may take a similar time before a concrete policy is formulated. We need to be vigilant in making sure that the Commission doesn’t let this slip.

Couple looking at art piece from the exhibition against the the destruction of the Amazon

Personally I'm optimistic however, because it's clear that the public and some forward-looking companies are in favour of this approach, and care passionately for forests.”

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