Quo Vadis Deforestation Zero Policy?

The Zero Deforestation policy was launched internationally to regulate international trade to stop the advance of forest deforestation in the world. The European Union enacted a law by the European Parliament, conditioning the entry of products and services into the European Union free of the environmental impacts of deforestation. The US has just promoted a broad public consultation on the impacts and trade restrictions for products that may cause increased deforestation. Brazil, like other countries, has been implementing forest code policies, sanctioned by Congress for over 10 years to prevent illegal deforestation and recover native forests.

Where are global deforestation policies going?

In the different world biomes, we have forests of all kinds, and it is necessary to recognize which forests we are talking about. Starting with the FAO, we have definitions of what would be considered forests, and the definition of deforestation. What different policies imply is not necessarily the same, since the disappearance of forests in the world is a phenomenon that we need to prevent because of the high value they represent, such as life in diversity and the natural contribution to fauna, flora, and climate. Life on the planet without forests is not thinkable. Thus, policies imply a global understanding, but we note that this does not the case. The EU, for example, in the measures recently enacted, focuses on native forests outside its territory and does not distinguish between legal and illegal deforestation. The USA, in its consultations, refers to this distinction. Countries like Brazil, which has the largest forest reserve in the world, define in their law,  “Forest Code,” differences between legal and illegal deforestation and reforestation obligations for all landowners in Brazil – coming close to the FAO’s concept of net deforestation (balance between legal deforestation and mandatory recovery). There is also room for defining forest losses due to intentional or unintentional fires, desertification, and erosion, not included in the FAO definition. Forest fires are a topic of greater global relevance, where developed and developing countries suffer enormous losses year after year. Only this particularity of the lack of harmony between understandings about the type of forest and its deforestation is important in the search for effective solutions. After all, everyone wants the same goal of reducing global deforestation, or even better, recovering lost forests. When starting from non-harmonized concepts, whatever the measure put in place, whether it is meant to sanction or stimulate, will generate divergences. Without an intense, frank, and open dialogue to harmonize the minimum global positions, the game becomes unequal and understanding becomes difficult.

Sanctions, or environmental preferences, in international trade should be dealt with where and how?

The WTO is the space created for all and any international trade regulations of the nations linked to it. In the WTO, there are precepts for contingencies, such as health issues. The environmental issue was foreseen, but it was never regulated because of the disunity of the parties. Perhaps this is where the activism of countries and blocs to make their own rules comes from. Brazil, which has large forest areas (2/3 of its territory) passed legislation relevant to forest protection in 2012, after long parliamentary consultations; however, it did not expand it to international trade, nor to regulate its imports or exports. As the WTO is not being contemplated in these measures, both the EU and the US are anticipating carrying out their sanctioning policies for international trade, based on the assessment of their trade partners’ deforestation. They want to prevent the import of products that cause direct or indirect deforestation. Countries affected by these measures normally have two options, adapting to what the “customer” requests or their commercial defense, seeking to stamp rules in their trade with equivalent measures. The greatest effort must be made to put in place effective policies that prevent deforestation and encourage reforestation and preservation.

The classification of countries with greater and lesser risks, as they have a greater number of forests than others, can be counterproductive as it punishes exactly those that have the most to preserve. It would be much smarter to classify countries according to their potential for forests, rewarding them for their preservation and punishing them for their deforestation. Putting the punitive principle at the forefront can lead to a justified correlation of classifying countries by the use of unsustainable electrical energy, classifying countries that use primarily fossil and nuclear energy as those of higher risk. The consequence would be an escalation of environmental protectionism, without solving the problem in essence.

Because deforestation has several different causes from region to region, for economic reasons, subsistence, and natural phenomena, among others, combat measures need to be effective; otherwise, they will result in side effects that harm more than fight the cause. Thus, the use of non-scientific measurements, such as the “principle of prevention” will bring enormous legal insecurities.

The imposition of non-harmonized criteria will be met by suppliers, but with the consequence of passing on higher costs to prices, without necessarily having the desired effect of deforestation (currently many of the suppliers already comply with international certifications, however, due to the new requirements, they will have to increase their efforts).

Where is the difference between EU and US measurements?

The big difference, at this moment, is that the European Union has already passed the zero deforestation law, without carrying out consultations and without seeking dialogue, thus imposing a norm that they believe to be the best. Meanwhile, the USA, in its wide consultation, offers options to the commercial partner, between sanctions and collaboration. It offers among its options the creation of Public Private Partnerships, PPP, which can establish road maps by sector and by country and be able to monitor the actions together that prevent deforestation and/or encourage reforestation. Partner countries and sectors can meet this form of supply in a collaborative manner, even increasing international competition for best practices. Should the US adopt this path, it will be well received than the European Union, which will have to face, in addition to rising prices, legal contingencies without necessarily achieving its objectives well. In the end, the US is strategically moving closer to Latin America while Europe is moving away. In the long term, the European consumer will wonder why it needs to pay higher prices for its food, without necessarily being sure that these measures were effective, turning against these rules and their legislators.

What options do we have for all of us to achieve the goal of reducing deforestation?

The best option is always the solution through dialogue.

In honest and frank dialogue, we discuss our objectives, understand our differences and seek the best paths. It is not just tropical forests that are at risk, but all forests that are being suppressed either by economic choices or by disasters such as fires, erosion, and desertification. Global technologies today can be used and shared on this journey, as a great mission, and not because we think that by restricting trade and punishing sectors that are supposedly devastating forests, we will achieve the best results. We do not need to put deforestation policy against food security policy or energy security (when it comes to biomass). The forest is humanity’s solution when it protects us and gives us sustenance. A forest that grows, through photosynthesis, absorbs CO2 and produces O2, while absorbing heat. In the long term, and when we talk about forests, which need decades to recover, cooperation has always been better than confrontation.

When there is no longer dialogue, confrontation wins. We need leaders that overcome this barrier of misunderstanding to promote dialogue to reach cooperation again.

May God enlighten us these Holidays so that we have strength in the New Year to win through dialogue!


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