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Deforestation law will have limited effect

A new law to help eliminate deforestation in UK supply chains risks being ineffective unless the scope of the legislation is widened, campaigners have warned.

The UK government plans to make it mandatory for large companies, including those in the food and drink sector, to carry out due diligence checks to ensure there is no illegal deforestation in their supply chains for forest-risk commodities such as soya and palm oil.

However, the fact the proposed measures will still allow products that result from legal deforestation to be sold in the UK means the legislation will have limited effect as well as being difficult to implement and enforce, according to a report from WWF.

Analysis of the areas in Brazil that supply soya directly to the UK shows that over 2.1 million hectares of natural vegetation – an area equivalent to just over the size of Wales – could potentially be legally converted under current laws.

The report highlights the complexity of assessing legal versus illegal deforestation, noting that although satellite imaging can identify whether an area has been cleared, it cannot prove whether that action was legal or illegal.

Complex legal frameworks in producer countries and limited data transparency also make it difficult to determine whether a plantation that has been created at the expense of forest and other natural ecosystems has been done so legally, according to WWF.

The report warns too that producer countries may weaken their own legal protections on forests and other natural ecosystems thereby putting more habitat under threat, as is already happening in countries like Brazil and Indonesia.

“The law proposed by UK government to stop deforestation isn’t yet robust enough and must be strengthened if it is to prevent further destruction of natural ecosystems – whether legal or illegal,” said Katie White, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF. “This must sit alongside a legally binding target to slash the UK’s global environmental footprint by 2030. Ministers have promised to protect nature and ensure a safe climate for future generations – we won’t forget should they fail to deliver.”