The Government has announced plans to introduce a new law to clamp down on illegal deforestation and to protect rainforests by cleaning up the UK’s supply chains.
The proposals, published by the Government on Tuesday, suggest the introduction of legislation which would prohibit larger businesses operating in the UK from using products grown on land that was deforested illegally.
These larger businesses would also be required to carry out due diligence on their supply chains by publishing information to show where key commodities – including rubber, soy and palm oil – came from and that they were produced in line with local laws protecting forests, or face fines.
The size of the fine handed to businesses that fail to comply will be set at a later date, the Government said.
The proposed legislation makes it clear that illegally produced commodities “have no place in the UK market”.
But Greenpeace UK said the Government’s plans are “seriously flawed”.
Statistics suggest that deforestation accounts for 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and a survey conducted by The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) recently found that 67% of respondents believe the Government should be doing more to tackle the issue in the Amazon.
The consultation will run for six weeks and seek views from UK and international stakeholders and will take into consideration potential impacts on businesses and other interests, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.
The announcement follows the establishment of the Government’s independent taskforce, the Global Resource Initiative, which was formed in 2019 to consider how the UK could “green” international supply chains.
The UN’s COP26 Climate Change Conference is being held in Glasgow next year.
International Environment Minister Lord Goldsmith said: “The UK has a duty to lead the way in combating the biodiversity and nature crisis.”
Lord Goldsmith added: “We have all seen the devastating pictures of the world’s most precious forests being cleared, often illegally, and we can’t afford not to act as a country.
“There is a hugely important connection between the products we buy and their wider environmental footprint, which is why the Government is consulting today on new measures that would make it illegal for businesses in the UK to use commodities that are not grown in accordance with local laws.
“Ahead of hosting the UN Climate Change Conference next year, the UK has a duty to lead the way in combating the biodiversity and nature crisis now upon us.
“There has been a lot of progress already to make the UK’s supply chains more sustainable, but more needs to be done.
“We will continue to work closely with farmers, business and governments around the world to ensure that we can protect our vital forests and support livelihoods as we build back greener from coronavirus.”
Sir Ian Cheshire, the chair of the independent taskforce, said: “I’m delighted to see the Government respond to one of the key recommendations of the Global Resource Initiative.
“Starting a discussion on how changes in UK law could help us all to reduce our global footprint. I would encourage as many people as possible to respond to this important consultation.”
Ruth Chambers, from the Greener UK coalition, added: “This consultation is a welcome first step in the fight to tackle the loss of our planet’s irreplaceable natural wonders such as the Amazon and in the pursuit of supply chains free from products that contribute to deforestation.
“The evidence linking deforestation with climate change, biodiversity loss and the spread of zoonotic diseases is compelling. A new law is an important part of the solution and is urgently needed.
“The proposal must now be tested thoroughly to ensure it will deliver the Government’s domestic and international environmental leadership ambitions.”
Elena Polisano, forests campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “Defra’s proposal to make it ‘illegal for larger businesses to use products unless they comply with local laws to protect natural areas’ is seriously flawed.
“We’ve all seen the way President Bolsonaro has championed the expansion of agriculture in Brazil at the expense of the Amazon rainforest.
“There is also nothing to address the fact that some commodity producers may have one ‘sustainable’ line but continue to destroy forests elsewhere which just shifts the problem into someone else’s backyard.
“We will never solve this problem without tackling demand. Companies like Tesco, who sell more meat and dairy and so use more soya for animal feed than any other UK retailer, know what they need to do to reduce the impact they are having on deforestation in the Amazon and other crucial forests
“They must reduce the amount of meat and dairy they sell and drop forest destroyers from their supply chain immediately.”
Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF-UK added: “It’s clear businesses and consumers don’t want imports that wreck the planet, drive deforestation in areas like the Amazon and lead to devastating fires.
“The Government must now fast-track strong, effective laws, that clean up our supply chains and show the UK can take the lead in tackling the global nature and climate crisis.”