RSBP and WWF urge government to capitalise on post-Brexit trade deals as well as the Agriculture and Environment Bills to cut deforestation from the UK’s supply chains.
A land area nearly as big as the whole of England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland combined is required annually to satisfy the UK's demand for just seven commodities, according to new findings published by WWF and RSBP.
According to a new report published today, titled Riskier Business - The UK's Overseas Land Footprint, nearly a third of the UK's overseas land footprint is in countries with high or very high risk of deforestation, ecosystem destruction, and human rights abuses.
Moreover, the findings show that the UK's annual overseas land footprint is growing rapidly, with the report calculating that the UK's land footprint overseas resulting from the consumption of beef and leather, timber, cocoa, rubber, palm oil, pulp and paper, soy, and timber has expanded 15 per cent growth since a prior study covering the period from 2011 to 2015 looked at the impact of the same seven commodities.
The two charities are now urging the government to use post-Brexit trade deals and the Agriculture and Environment Bills currently progressing through Parliament to introduce new measures to guard against deforestation that results from UK supply chains.
"We can only truly improve UK environmental standards if we stop importing food that causes deforestation elsewhere," said Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF. "As we begin the process of recovery from the pandemic, we urgently need a legal duty on companies to cut these activities out of their supply chains, and we can't sign up to trade deals that have habitat destruction baked in. If we don't take these measures, we are just starting the timer on the next global health crisis."
Urgent action is needed, the report notes, because "little progress has been made" to stop international supply chains driving the destruction of nature, despite a raft of high-profile commitments from governments and businesses over the last decade, including the New York Declaration on Forests in 2014 and the Amsterdam Declarations in 2015.
"Deadlines have either been extended or completely removed by businesses, whilst overall deforestation rates continue to accelerate in the tropics, including in the Amazon and the Cerrado," WWF and RSBP note.
Beccy Speight, chief executive at the RSBP, said: "If we are serious about rebuilding a brighter future, we need new laws to ensure that companies can prove their supply chains are not putting us all at risk."
She added that the coronavirus crisis had highlighted the importance of nature to many people. "The links between thriving nature habitats and our mental wellbeing have never been more obvious," she said. "We cannot afford to underestimate the value of nature. Neither can we turn a blind eye to the power our choices, as a society, an economy and as individuals, have to change the world for the better."
Of the seven commodities analysed in the survey timber has seen the biggest surge in use of overseas land area. Land has reportedly tripled since 2011 to 8.4 million hectares, equivalent to an area bigger than Scotland.
The report suggests this increase is partly driven by policy shifts, including a move towards renewable energy. "Though well-intended, these policies fail in sufficiently assessing the carbon impacts of biofuels," it notes. Advocates of biomass energy and biofuels maintain they deliver net emissions savings, but environmental campaigners remain concerned about the potential land use impact of the sector.
The study also found that 89 per cent of palm oil, 65 per cent of soy, and 63 per cent of cocoa was imported to the UK comes from countries with high deforestation rates.
The report comes at a time when a growing number of businesses are stepping up efforts to curb the environmental impact of their supply chain. Just this week a group of leading British firms published an open letter warning the Brazilian government they could boycott Brazilian goods altogether if the country's Parliament approves land reform legislationthat experts fear would lead to even higher rates of Amazon deforestation.
Meanwhile, the investor-backed CDP group reported this week that it has seen a 24 per cent jump in the past year in the number of large corporates using its supply chain programme to call on suppliers to disclose information on their environmental impacts.
The new report also follows the publication of the Global Resource Initiative Task Force's recommendations for tackling the UK's overseas environmental footprint, which called on the government to table a 'mandatory due diligence' amendment that would require UK businesses to prove their supply chains are not harming the planet.
In addition, WWF and RSBP are pushing the government to include a target for the country's global footprint in its Environment Bill, and for an amendment that would seek to tackle deforestation prompted by the conversion of the world's forests to produce food and other crops for the UK's consumption.
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