In a significant move to combat worldwide deforestation, the French government unveiled a national strategy on Wednesday that looks to curb imports of soybean, palm oil, beef and beef products, cocoa, rubber, as well as wood and its derivatives.
The new plan, a joint effort from five French ministries, identifies these items as contributing the most to “imported deforestation”—meaning these products are directly or indirectly tied to forest degradation.
For instance, the production of palm oil—a common vegetable oil found in chocolate, baked goods, soaps, biofuel and much more—has cleared much of Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s tropical rainforests and is a driver of wildlife habitat degradation, human rights violations and climate change.
Between 1990 and 2015, the world’s forested area has shrunk by a staggering 129 million hectares—an area almost equivalent in size to South Africa, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
What’s more, clearing so much forested area has led “to an 11 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions and significant consequences in terms of preserving biodiversity and natural habitats,” the French ministries noted in a joint statement.
“European countries bear an important responsibility, since a third of this deforestation is due to the consumption of agricultural products by the countries of the European Union,” the statement added.
They proposed 17 measures aimed at ending deforestation caused by the import of unsustainable products by 2030.
Such measures, according to Reuters, include financial aid to encourage exporting countries or regions to respect non-deforestation criteria; the launch of a “zero deforestation” label for consumers by 2020; and a 2019 push for a European policy on imports posing a risk for forests.
“The objective of this strategy is to bring each actor (producers, companies, investors, consumers) to change their practices to reduce deforestation,” the ministers explained.
The United Nations has a goal of halting deforestation by 2020. With some 13 million hectares of forest destroyed annually, this goal could prove difficult to reach unless the world gets its act together.
France is among a coalition of seven EU countries that called on the European Commission last month to deliver an action plan to tackle global deforestation by the end of the year.