Study Confirms EU Wood Consumption Negligible Impact On Deforestation

By Suzanne Hendrix, 11/07/13

Welcome back to the Nova USA Wood blog, the most in-depth hardwood species series on the web. Today's blog is about EU wood consumption and its impact on deforestation.

The European Commission has just released a report entitled "Comprehensive analysis of the impact of EU consumption on deforestation". The implications of the report for EU policy in relation to tropical forests and the wider forest products sector could be profound. Underlying the report seems to be a realisation that, despite years of political dialogue and funding of programs targeting deforestation, the problem remains profound.

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The report takes a good hard look at just how much, and in what ways, European consumption of resources is contributing to deforestation. By doing so, it aims to ensure development of policy and legislative measures that might actually make a difference. The report is a serious piece of work, prepared with the support of the European Environment Council, the European Parliament, and the European Economic and Social Committee (although the EC is careful to point out that it is an independent study not necessarily representing their views).

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The report is particularly significant because it considers, in exhaustive detail, the impact on deforestation of EU consumption of all products and services, not just those derived directly from forest management. It therefore captures, and puts into context, the large role of commercial cash crops in driving deforestation. The report uses the concept of “embodied deforestation” to link deforestation to consumption. Essentially it quantifies the area of deforestation associated with the production of any good, commodity or service. The report combines a detailed review of data on the scale and location of deforestation with an analysis of the various drivers of deforestation around the world. It then determines the volume and direction of trade flows of all commodities linked to the deforestation process. For all relevant traded commodities, the report considers both the direct (e.g. conversion of forest into agricultural land) and indirect impacts (e.g. pollution from mining activities leading to forest degradation and later forest conversion).

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Working through the numbers, the report ends up attributing 200,000 hectares of total global deforestation of 232 million hectares between 1990 and 2008 to the EU's imports of wood products. This compares to 8.7 million hectares attributed to EU imports of agricultural cash crops and livestock products. The report also shows that worldwide only 33% of deforestation embodied in crops and only 8% of deforestation embodied in livestock products enters international markets.

The report confirms forcibly something that many people in the wood industry have long suspected, that policy measures in consuming countries targeting only the wood trade - whatever their merits in improving environmental and social performance in other areas - can play little or no role to prevent or slow deforestation.

Measures targeting consumption of agricultural commodities, which have long been neglected, would be more effective. But even here the value of trade-based measures in isolation is constrained by the fact that a majority of product remains within the country of origin. At the very least, the report might discourage European policy makers and environmentalists from presenting EUTR, forest certification and legality verification as a necessary and effective response to deforestation. Instead, they might be encouraged to present such mechanisms for what they are, as a demonstration of innovation and leadership by the wood industry with useful lessons that urgently need to be applied to other industrial sectors.

If you have any questions regarding this species, or any of our other products, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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By Suzanne Hendrix, 11/07/13

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