Image: Graeme Williams @gwphoto1066

Regulation is essential to meet international commitments to halt and reverse tropical deforestation

Insight / 21 Mar 2024

“Time is of the essence” for a UK deforestation law, government minister Lord Benyon told, as the All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Deforestation meets to mark International Forests Day.

The UK Environment Act was passed into law in November of 2021 and was hailed as the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth. It promised the world’s first due diligence laws to clamp down on illegal deforestation linked to commodity imports. But those laws require secondary legislation and two years on that has still not made it before Parliament.

“There is much more to do,” Chris Grayling MP told a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Global Deforestation that he co-chairs. “This group continues to remind the government about the importance of moving as fast as we can as a country on deforestation around the world. On deforestation there is a very long way to go.”

Chris Grayling, Lord Benyon and Anna Collins at APPG on Global Deforestation event
Image: Graeme Williams @gwphoto1066

Lord Benyon, Minister of State for Climate, Environment and Energy, did promise that the legislation was imminent. But in the two year delay that has already elapsed, research carried out by Trase for Global Witness found that imports such as beef, soy and palm oil, linked to the destruction of an area of tropical forest almost twice the size of Paris, have flooded UK markets.

At the start of 2024 the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) published a report criticising the government’s “lack of urgency about the implementation” of the legislation. It also urged the government to include other forest risk commodities into the scope of the law, as at the moment only beef, soy, palm oil and cocoa are included.

Addressing MPs at the meeting, Global Canopy’s Policy Director, Helen Bellfield, was unequivocal. “Time is of the essence. We can’t afford to delay any longer so it’s critical that the government moves quickly. It’s also critical that the grace period in the legislation doesn’t kick the can down the road even further.”

The EAC report also echoed a Global Canopy demand for the law to be extended to financial institutions. Helen Bellfield told the event: “We need regulation, not just for companies but also for the finance sector who are powering much of this activity.”

Regulation is essential because change through voluntary commitments is not happening fast enough or at the scale we need. Our tenth annual Forest 500 report, which tracks the policies and performance of the 350 most influential companies and 150 financial institutions most exposed to deforestation, shows almost a quarter of those that have featured in each of the 10 annual assessments are yet to publish a single commitment on addressing deforestation. 55% of the financial institutions assessed still do not have a single publicly available deforestation policy.

Of companies that have set commitments, nearly two-thirds (63%) are failing to publish adequate evidence of their implementation. That’s why reporting requirements for the new UK law are going to be critical. Helen Bellfield told MPs: “We’ve seen from the modern slavery act and other pieces of legislation that where it’s just paper reporting and you have no process in place standardising norms around traceability, we’re unable to see reality and enforcement is not happening. Without enforcement it’s just a paper based regulation that doesn’t create changes on the ground.”

Also speaking was the Colombian Ambassador to the UK, Roy Barreras Montealegre. Later this year Columbia will host COP 16 – the nature COP – in the city of Cali. “We need everyone’s collaboration. Now is the time to save our planet.” 

In a video message for the event Juan Carlos Jintiach, the executive director of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities called for help from the UK government. “We are working for human rights, working for Indigenous rights. We are demanding protections for Mother Earth, asking for solidarity, support our governance, support our projects and priorities.” That message was echoed by Global Canopy Policy Director Helen Bellfield. “Human rights need to be much better understood and they need to be integrated into policies and not treated as some sort of separate issue or an add on. That needs to be both the case for voluntary commitments and standard setting, but also by policy frameworks and regulatory frameworks.”

Regulation is vital. But it was also made clear that putting nature on an equal footing to climate is just as essential. Anna McMorrin is a former co-chair of the APPG and now the Shadow Minister for Latin America. She told the event that politicians have a duty to speak out. “If we lose the Amazon that is the tipping point, a tipping point we can’t escape from. We have a duty to ensure that people on the streets of Cardiff and Leeds understand that the Amazon matters to all of us.”

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