The 27 European Union countries on Tuesday formally adopted new rules that should help the bloc reduce its contribution to global deforestation by regulating the trade in a series of products driving the decrease in forested areas across the world.
Under the legislation, companies trading palm oil, cattle, wood, coffee, cocoa, rubber, and soy will need to verify that the goods they sell in the EU haven't led to deforestation and forest degradation anywhere in the world since 2021.
The regulation also covers derived products such as chocolate or printed paper.
Forests are an important natural means of removing greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere since plants absorb carbon dioxide when they grow.
According to the World Resource Institute, a forested area the size of 10 soccer fields disappears in the world every minute and the EU says that without the new regulation, it could be responsible for the loss of 248,000 hectares (612,000 acres) of deforestation per year — a surface almost as large as member country Luxembourg.
“Effectively implemented, the law could significantly reduce greenhouse emissions that result from the clearing of tropical forests for food and other commodities," said Stientje van Veldhoven, the World Resource Institute regional director for Europe. “And it could help protect critical biodiversity and water resources in tropical rainforests.”
The law will force companies to show that the goods they import comply with rules in the country of origin, including on human rights and the protection of Indigenous people.
Van Veldhoven added that the EU should now cooperate with producing countries to make sure they can adapt to the new legislation without hurting their economies and people's livelihoods.
“This will require incentives for vulnerable groups like smallholder farmers to shift toward deforestation-free practices, ensuring they do not get left behind in this transition,” she said.
Forests around the world are increasingly under threat from clearance for timber and agriculture, including soybean and palm oil. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 420 million hectares (1.6 million square miles) of forest — an area larger than the EU — were destroyed between 1990 and 2020.