A recent report by MPs highlights the alarming and unsustainable impact of UK consumption on global deforestation. The findings reveal that commodities like soya, cocoa, palm oil, beef, and leather, often consumed in the UK, are major contributors to deforestation worldwide. The environmental audit committee’s analysis indicates that the UK’s deforestation footprint per tonne of consumed product surpasses that of several other nations, labeling it as “unsustainable.”
This deforestation footprint measures the extent of forest loss associated with each tonne of consumed product, analogous to a carbon footprint. Scientists determined these footprints by scrutinizing trade patterns of goods linked to significant levels of forest destruction.
Although the UK government proposed banning products resulting from illegal deforestation from its supply chain, this addresses only a fraction of the issue. Legal deforestation, prevalent in various producing countries, remains unaddressed by this ban.
Criticism has emerged regarding this ban’s unintended consequences. Client Earth expressed concerns that such bans incentivize exporting nations to dismantle forest protection laws, legalizing deforestation and enabling the continued import of associated products into the UK.
Notably, the proposed legislation, yet to pass through parliament, faces scrutiny for its exclusion of popular commodities like coffee. MPs from the environmental audit committee urge ministers to establish both a target to diminish the UK’s impact on global deforestation and a Global Footprint Indicator to transparently showcase this impact to the public.
Underpinning these concerns is the report’s emphasis on forests, housing 80% of terrestrial biodiversity, supporting 1.6 billion people’s livelihoods, and delivering crucial ecosystem services vital for local and global economies.
The magnitude of deforestation’s impact on carbon emissions is significant, contributing 11% of global emissions. A joint study by the RSPB and WWF revealed that UK imports of seven forest-risk commodities accounted for an enormous land footprint, equivalent to 88% of the UK’s size annually. Furthermore, 40% of the UK’s overseas land footprint is in nations facing high deforestation risks, inadequate governance, and subpar labor standards.
The report urges the government to introduce legislation mandating that public bodies only procure forest-risk goods certified as sustainable, avoiding contributions to unsustainable deforestation. Additionally, it calls for stricter UK timber regulations to ensure all imported timber adheres to sustainable harvesting practices, going beyond merely blocking illegally harvested timber. These measures aim to set a precedent for industries and prevent the UK government from perpetuating unsustainable deforestation practices through its purchases.