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It’s time to use our world-leading Environment Act to tackle deforestation

Protecting and restoring what's left of the world's forests is crucial to meeting our climate and biodiversity goals. After years of progress, the rate of deforestation is again increasing. Between 2015 and 2020, we lost 10m hectares a year.

That's why it's time ministers use their world-leading Environment Act powers to free United Kingdom supply chains of deforestation.

If we continue to deforest our planet, uprooting these carbon-sequestering habitats forever, we will lose countless species and drive climate change. This is not just an environmental matter either. Around 25 per cent of our world’s medicines are derived from rainforest plants, and that’s just the ones we know about. If we lose the rainforests, who knows what else we will lose? We risk inadvertently fuelling deforestation abroad. The Environment Act included provisions to address this with due diligence requirements on larger companies, making it illegal for them to rely on forest-risk commodities produced on land unlawfully deforested.

But these provisions to protect the world's forests still haven't been designed, defined or enforced using necessary secondary legislation two years on. Until this work is done, UK consumers buying goods like coffee or chocolate may unknowingly support deforestation abroad. Given our country's enormous demand for global products, we must tackle the use of illegally-produced forest-risk commodities.

Defra has already consulted on how due diligence rules would work for companies selling eight everyday goods linked to deforestation: coffee, cocoa, palm oil, leather, beef, soy, maize and rubber. The consultation suggested that at least five of these should be covered under the new law to be effective but to minimise deforestation we should have all of them.

Mandating companies to publicly report on how they measure their own due diligence will mean consumers can directly see what work companies are doing to avoid deforestation and keep these companies accountable.

We should also go further in tackling deforestation. Nearly all of us will invest with and use UK financial institutions, banks and pension funds. But we rarely see where this money goes. Many voluntary schemes like the excellent Make My Money Matter campaign seek to empower us to choose where our money goes.

But we all live busy lives and we can't just rely on transparency. Our due diligence legislation could also extend to financial institutions, preventing them from financing forest-risk commodities without ensuring the investment is deforestation free. Collectively we all invest a vast amount of money. We should make sure that it benefits us and our planet.

In the same vein, we should make sure any overseas aid we spend is also nature positive. This Conservative government has already taken the unprecedented step of ensuring overseas aid does not harm nature, leaving nature better than we found it to help deliver sustainable long-term support to those most in need and help our planet.

The urgency to protect our remaining rainforests cannot be overstated. By using the powers given in the Environment Act and introducing due diligence requirements, we can preserve vital ecosystems and set a precedent for other nations to follow as the world seeks to halt the decline of nature.

First published by PoliticsHome. Steve Brine MP (Winchester) is a member of the Conservative Environment Network.

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