Deforestation and ecosystem conversion: a strict EU legal framework is imperative

Global deforestation and conversion of natural ecosystems is progressing alarmingly. As the world's second largest importer of tropical deforestation, the EU is called upon to act. Christine Scholl, Senior Advisor Sustainable Agricultural Supply Chains at WWF Germany, explains what binding and comprehensive EU regulation should look like.

A cocoa plantation in Peru. (c) Leslie Searles/GIZ

Christine Scholl

Christine Scholl is Senior Advisor for Sustainable Agricultural Supply Chains at the conservation organisation WWF. She joined WWF Germany in 2018 as Manager Sustainable Business and Markets and then took over the role as Acting Director of the Sustainable Business and Markets Department. Since 2020, she works on sustainable and responsible supply chains, standards and certification systems in the Agriculture and Land Use Change Department. Previously, Christine Scholl worked at the think tank adelphi on responsible supply chains, the reduction of negative environmental and social impacts in the production and extraction of raw materials, and the impacts of climate change on the environment and economic sectors.

World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF)


By covering one third of our planet, forests are home to 80 percent of all terrestrial plant and animal species. Especially tropical forests are of high relevance for biodiversity, as they inhabit 50 percent of all terrestrial plant and animal species, while only covering 7 percent of our planet. Besides their high value for biological diversity, forests, but also other natural ecosystems like grasslands, wetlands and savannahs provide for important ecosystem services: they are crucial for our climate as they serve as carbon storage and sink, regulate hydrological cycles and micro- and macroclimate. They filter pollutants and enhance air quality. They provide for wood and non-timber products and pharmaceutical resources. And they serve as livelihoods, cultural sites, and recreation areas.


Despite their manifold values, forests and other natural ecosystems continue to be destroyed at an alarming rate. This contributes to climate change and loss of biodiversity.


According to the WWF report "Stepping up: The continuing impact of EU consumption on nature" on the EU’s role in global trade and deforestation, the biggest threat to forests and other natural ecosystems remains the expansion of agriculture, which led to the conversion of around 5 million hectares of tropical forests into agricultural land per year between 2005 and 2017. Since agricultural commodities driving these land use changes and degradation are traded internationally, tackling the problem is not just the responsibility of producing countries.


Illustration: WWF

The EU must act

The report particularly highlights the role of the EU in tropical deforestation, as the EU is the second largest importer of tropical deforestation and associated emissions after China. In 2017, the EU was responsible for 16% of deforestation associated with international trade, totalling 203,000 hectares and 116 million tonnes of CO₂. Between 2005-2017, soy, palm oil and beef were the commodities with the largest embedded tropical deforestation imported into the EU, followed by wood products, cocoa and coffee. EU demand for these commodities is also driving destruction of non-forest ecosystems, such as savannahs, grasslands and wetlands.


Despite numerous voluntary commitments by companies and governments, efforts to eliminate deforestation from commodity supply chains by 2020 have not succeeded. Against this backdrop and due to increased pressure of civil society and a group of EU governments, the EC decided to step up its action to protect the world's forests. For 2021, the EC foresees a proposal for new legislation to “minimise the risk of deforestation and forest degradation associated with products placed on the EU market”. To ensure the regulation’s impact, the following 8 requirements must be met:

  • Products and commodities placed on the EU market are sustainable instead of only being considered “legal” according to the country of origin.
  • The scope of EU legislation includes the conversion and degradation of natural ecosystems alongside deforestation.
  • Based on objective and scientific criteria, the new legislation covers commodities and products at risk of being linked to deforestation and conversion.
  • No violation of human rights is linked to the harvest or production of commodities placed on EU markets.
  • Mandatory requirements are introduced for businesses and the finance sector to ensure due diligence, traceability of commodities and supply chain transparency.
  • Clear definitions are provided for relevant terms and concepts used in the legislation.
  • The legislation is stringently implemented and enforced across the EU Member States, with effective, proportionate, and dissuasive sanctions.
  • Complementary additional measures are introduced to address the underlying causes of destruction and degradation of forests and other natural ecosystems and to support producers, smallholders, and companies to implement the new standard introduced by the legislation.

With a legislation based on these criteria, the EU would ensure that commodities and products placed on the EU market are not linked to the destruction of forests and other natural ecosystems. The EU would halt its imported deforestation and set a good example for other regions of the world to follow with similar binding measures. Furthermore, the EU would benefit businesses by creating a level-playing field that holds competitors to the same standards.


A holistic and inclusive approach to regulations

However, as the new legislation will only address the topic of deforestation and conversion, other binding requirements and supportive measures for sustainable production and responsible supply chains must be established alongside. Besides the need for a strong EU due diligence legislation and minimum criteria for sustainable production, the topics of small producers, indigenous people and food security are of particular concern.


Globally, millions of smallholders are involved in agricultural production. Therefore, incentives, tools and trainings for a deforestation and conversion-free production need to be provided. Diversification can be one of many additional measures, with dynamic agroforestry systems being an example to improve livelihoods and food security and at the same time to preserve forest and other valuable ecosystems.


As natural ecosystems provide for many important ecosystem services, for example the provision of plants, animals and fish that serve as a direct food source for local communities, deforestation and conversion affects food security directly. Furthermore, its negative impacts on regional water cycles and soil degradation affect agricultural productivity and the local supply of staple foods. In the long run, the emissions caused by deforestation and land conversion will increase the negative effects of climate change and its associated impacts on agriculture.


The halt of global deforestation and conversion is crucial for current livelihoods and future generations. As solely voluntary measures failed to protect and restore the world's forests, strong and binding measures need to be introduced by the EU. This new legislation needs to focus on forest and other natural ecosystems and needs to be accompanied by complementary additional measures, especially to support smallholders and indigenous communities and to reach sustainable food security.


Co-Authors: Ilka Petersen (Senior Programme Officer Sustainable Land Use & Communication), Alica Nagel (Advisor Standard Setting and Implementation), Kerstin Weber (Project Manager Agroecology).


Go back

Ähnliche Beiträge

The world needs empowered farmers!

The world needs empowered farmers! But what does that mean and how can it be organized? With the support of the SEWOH partners, journalist Jan Grossarth has gathered guiding thoughts on the topic in an article.

Organised agricultural lobbying is rare in industrialised nations. Is the political influence of certain interest groups that have excellent parliamentary connections and work quietly behind the scenes in aid of meat exports or biomass subsidies excessively large and insufficiently transparent? Such questions are a subject of discussion in Europe and the USA, but also in Brazil or Argentina. And for good reason. With regard to global food security another, to some extent countervailing question arises: how can “good lobbying” for the development interests of the world’s smallholders emerge? Would it not, after all, be widely beneficial, and also necessary in order to ensure a stable global food supply, if the hundreds of millions of local farmers in Africa and Asia were able to represent their income- and development-related interests more effectively in parliaments, the media and international organisations?

Read more

Why the transformation of our food systems is imperative

Current crises highlight the need to transform food systems. Dr Sinclair, team leader of the World Food Security Committee, presents 13 agro-ecological principles that might be effective for change.

Read more

Ms Neubert, what is a trilemma? And what can be done about it?

In order to alleviate the trilemma of land use, the climate crisis, the destruction of biodiversity and the food crisis must be addressed simultaneously. Susanne Neubert explains in an interview what such strategies might look like.

Read more

Labels, customs tariffs and supply chain legislation: Do they benefit or harm smallholders?

In the discussion about sustainability in supply chains, European states focus on labels, customs tariffs and government regulations. With the support of the SEWOH partners, Jan Grossarth questions these measures.

After the eight-storey Rana Plaza factory collapsed in Bangladesh in April 2013, killing over a thousand textile workers under the rubble, the issue of human rights in sewing factories dominated global news for a few days. The initial shock turned into shame. After all, wasn’t everyone who bought cheap T-shirts and jeans somehow responsible? This was followed by a political debate: Hadn’t the disaster happened in a domain where the state, i.e. Bangladesh, should have ensured compliance with its laws? Or, on the other hand, do we not have a say in the regulations determining how the products we consume are manufactured? Not only through consumption, but through our government and companies?

Read more

Agroecology: a global political guiding perspective?

Agroecology is a popular buzzword in food policy worldwide. It is based on a complex concept that journalist Jan Grossarth, with the support of the SEWOH partners, has examined and called into question.

Agroecology cannot be defined in one phrase. It would take some pages. As a political guiding perspective – perhaps because of its variety – it is suitable to pleasing everyone. The European Commission is relying on this approach as part of the Green Deal as its 10-year transformation plan, and the term is also mentioned in the Farm to Fork food strategy of the EU Commission. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has commissioned its leading experts from the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to shed light on the approach in a 163-page report (the HLPE Report, 2019). The summary alone uses eleven key points in its definition. An agroecological approach, it says, “favours the use of natural processes, limits the use of external inputs, promotes closed cycles with minimal negative externalities and stresses the importance of local knowledge and participatory processes” – while also being designed to reduce social inequalities and to help the sciences to gain in importance. 

Read more

Agroecology at UN level: The FAO's Scaling up Agroecology Initiative

Growing scientific evidence and local experiences demonstrate how agroecology has the potential to offer a holistic response to the multiple and interrelated challenges facing food systems.

Read more

Supply chain legislation: “The EU’s general principle is to support, not to punish”

Aside from the German Federal government, EU institutions are also encouraging the introduction of a supply chain law. What would be the consequences? Questions for Bettina Rudloff of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).

Read more

Babban Gona's holistic financing approach

What are innovative financing mechanisms and how can financing help to scale innovations? Kola Masha, Managing Director of Babban Gona explains in an interview his holistic business model, which he built up in Nigeria with financial help and support from the German KfW. 

Read more

The hope of development cooperation lays in innovation

Policy makers wish for innovation. But what is an innovation that truly takes Africa a step forward? With the support of the SEWOH partners, journalist Jan Grossarth took a critical look at the demand for innovation.

Is innovation a cure? A meaningless filler? Even problematic? And: In what way? Taking a critical post-colonial look at the past, the “innovation history” of Africa appears to be a double-edged sword, in any case. Historian Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga, who teaches at MIT in the USA, deplores the failure and even largely destructive effect of “western” technology and knowledge exports to Africa. In his works about innovation in Africa, “capitalistic entrepreneurship” appears as “imperialism” in modified form and downright “parasitical” in its nature. A problematic definition of innovation, he says, has been transferred to Africa particularly from Europe. A definition that is limited to technical aspects, industrial scaling and commercial use.

Read more

From Space to Seed: Innovation for world nutrition

From crop forecasts out of space to resistant seeds: What ideas and technologies have been developed in recent years to revolutionize the world's nutrition? We present a selection of innovations that could be decisive in the fight against hunger.

Read more

Drones for Inclusive Growth in Agriculture

BASF’s project Drones for Smallholder Farmers aims to build an inclusive business model that will facilitate access of smallholders to drones for spraying crop protection products. A report by Dr. Diana Moran.

Read more

The garden of agroecology: A few real-life examples

The challenges of population growth, dwindling biodiversity and climate change require to rethink our current food systems and call for solution approaches in terms of an agroecological transformation.

Read more

Beyond your own field

An exchange program between the German Farmers' Association and the Andreas Hermes Academy for young German and Ugandan farmers shows: North-South cooperation works best at eye level. Four graduates report on what is possible when farmers learn from each other.

Read more

A globally popular export

"One for all, all for one" - this motto became the basis for action of agricultural cooperatives that were founded in the 19th century. They became a success story that will continue to be written well into the 21st century.

Read more

Meet the people: Joseph Ngaah

Joseph Ngaah is chairman of the Kakamega County Farmers Association in Kenya. Through his commitment at national and local level, he gives farmers a voice - both in the media and with political decision-makers. Within the SEWOH, he cooperates with the Andreas Hermes Academy, the Green Innovation Centers and TMG - Sustainable Think Tank.

Read more

Banking on innovation and sustainability in the cocoa value chain

Juliette Kouassi founded the cocoa cooperative ABOUd'CAO in Côte d'Ivoire, which dismantles traditional role definitions. The aim is to promote women producers and "throw anything away in the cocoa value chain, by rendering value to everything."

Read more

Farmers in revolt-their movement brings unity and hope

Since 2014, a law has guaranteed all Indians sufficient healthy food at affordable prices. Now one of the biggest waves of protest in history is rocking the subcontinent. Farmers are fighting back against laws that abolish guaranteed minimum prices and put nutrition programmes in jeopardy.  


Read more

The path from the greenhouse into practice

Innovative ideas like apps are popular showcases. But for the successful implementation of an innovation, thinking beyond the boundaries of projects is necessary. Lennart Woltering explains in an interview how to move from the greenhouse into practice.

Read more

Even innovations take their time

Some good ideas never become reality. It takes patience, long-term thinking and the courage to learn from mistakes. Based on a conversation with software developer Simon Riedel, journalist Jan Rübel focused on the challenges of innovation in an international development context.

Read more