EU members demand increased action on 2020 UN deforestation goal

An action plan on the alarming rates of global deforestation from the EU, which has previously been delayed, has been demanded to be brought forward “as soon as possible”, by the Amsterdam Declaration, a declaration proposed and sign by a number of EU countries, in a letter sent to the European commission.

The letter states that “despite progress in recent years, deforestation and forest degradation continue at alarming rates, in particular in tropical and subtropical regions, with as much as 80 % of global forest loss being driven by expansion of agricultural land, according to FAO estimates.”

The UN has a goal of halting deforestation by 2020, part of their Sustainable Development Goals, with goal 15 referencing the target of halting deforestation, and similarly goal 12, which works towards ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns, notably of palm oil.

The Amsterdam Declaration group letter states that “as a major importer and consumer of many commodities which include embodied deforestation, the EU is both part of the problem and can be part of the solution by stepping up its efforts to address the impacts of the consumption and adopt a more coherent and comprehensive EU approach to the problem of deforestation.”

The Amsterdam Declaration itself aims at promoting “sustainable economic development” as it’s main tenet, but also focuses on an “inter-sectoral and holistic agenda” for poverty reduction, food security, gender equality, water and sanitation, sustainable consumption and production, climate action, and the halting of land degradation and biodiversity loss.

“The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR5) states: “total anthropogenic Green House Gas (GHG) emissions have continued to increase over 1970 to 2010 with larger absolute decadal increases toward the end of this period (high confidence)”. In 2010, 24% (12 GtCO2eq) of total net emission was associated to Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses – AFOLU – (IPCC AR5). Moreover, according to the FAO (2014) AFOLU emissions may still increase by up to 30% if the status quo remains unchanged.” states the Declaration.

As stated above, agribusiness is responsible for 80% of the current amount of global forest loss. The forests that stretch around the planet are not only responsible for maintaining biodiversity, but for land reclamation and an incredible amount of carbon sequestration. Better forest management and natural climate solutions could possibly provide more than a third of climate breakdown mitigation needed by 2030 if acted upon, which makes this letter from the Amsterdam Declaration group all the more important.

This move comes as tensions and concerns continue to increase over the election of right-wing Jair Bolsonaro as President-elect of Brazil, whose campaign was funded in large by powerful agribusiness interests’ promising to construct a highway through the Amazon rainforest, an act with the potential to spread deforestation to an area of rainforest larger than Germany.

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Rainforest in Brazil.

Stronger regulations and laws within the EU could be put in place to lower the ecological footprint of our societies within all levels of the economy, from demand to production to consumption. According to Greenpeace, it is the production of soy, beef, and palm oil which drives deforestation in Brazil today.

Over the last decade, production of palm oil has doubled. This is expected to double again by 2050. Palm oil itself accounted for 65% of all vegetable oils traded internationally in 2006.

Recently an advert from Iceland and Greenpeace went viral, depicting a cartoon orangutan telling the story of the destruction of its home for the production of palm oil. While noble in it’s message, it misses out on the fact that it is not the issue with outright consumption, it is an issue of land management.

It has been claimed that to produce as much oil from a substitute in ‘palm oil free’ products, the amount of land needed increases to as much as 40x for coconut oil and 25x for soya. Soya production has been linked to massive deforestation in the South Americas, and yet is not covered in the mainstream media.

This could be attributed to the lack of coverage for environmental issues caused by the animal agriculture business, with around 90% of soybean production used for animal feed. It is similar in focus to the recent proposed ban on plastic straws across the UK, in an effort to reduce plastic waste in our oceans, when a large majority of plastic waste in our seas comes from discarded fishing gear, and yet the focus falls on plastic straws.

It is possible that for deforestation to become more manageable, it is not simply our consumption that needs to be reduced, but that actual way that we farm these products. These ‘Natural Climate Solutions’, can be read about here.

The full letter from the Amsterdam Declaration can be read here.

The taxation of red meat is a needed measure to save lives, states new research

New research published in the journal Plos One, a peer-reviewed Open Access journal that publishes ‘scientifically rigorous research’, has stated that a taxation on red meat would save many lives and also raise large amounts of money for use in healthcare. The research found that ‘Including the social health cost of red and processed meat consumption in the price of red and processed meat could lead to significant health and environmental benefits, in particular in high and middle-income countries.

This new research, headed up by Dr Marco Springmann, who currently works on the Future of Food project at the Oxford Martin School, uses a standard economic approach, named ‘optimal taxation, to calculate tax rates. The healthcare costs incurred by eating one additional portion of red meat is used to set the tax rate, in contrast to using the total healthcare costs that come about through red meat consumption.

While factually correct, it is still relatively unheard of that processed red meat had been classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organisation in 2015, and yet despite this announcement, the consumption of red meat is on an upward trend, especially in western countries. For example, in the United Kingdom of 1961, the amount of meat consumption was 69.8kg. In 2002 it was 79.6kg. In the US of 1961, meat consumption per capita was 89.2kg, and in 2002 it was 124.8kg, and increase in 40 years of 35.6kg of meat.

The findings stated that, based on current trends, the health-related costs to society ‘attributable to red and processed meat consumption in 2020 amount to USD 285 billion… three quarters of which were due to processed meat consumption’.

As the prices of processed meat increased by 25% on average under optimal taxation, and prices for red meat increased by 4% on average, the number of deaths attributable to these two foodstuffs decreased by 9% annually, with health costs decreased by 14%, valued at USD 41 billion.

These taxes were created relative to the amount of meat consumed and do not represent a flat global rate. The US would be one of the countries with the highest rates, for example, there would be a 163% levy on ham. Australian meat prices would be met with a 109% tax on processed, and a 18% tax on unprocessed meats. UK rates would 79% and 14% for those food-groups respectively.

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‘Change in the price of red meat (a) and processed meat (b) under cost-compensating taxation in relation to attributable health costs (%), change in deaths attributable to red and processed meat consumption (%)’. Image: Springmann, Mason-D’Croz, Robinson, Weibe, Godfray, Rayner, Scarborough.

“Nobody wants governments to tell people what they can and can’t eat,” Springmann said. “It is totally fine if you want to have [red meat], but this personal consumption decision really puts a strain on public funds. It is not about taking something away from people, it is about being fair.”

The intensive method and global scale of meat demand and subsequent production is also an incredibly damaging industry to the living planet. In a critical report from a group at the University of Oxford published in May, it was stated that reducing meat and dairy products, or avoiding them altogether, is the single biggest way as an individual to reduce your environmental impact. In a similar report, also published by Springmann et al, it was stated that a 90% drop in red meat consumption and reductions in other meat categories are essential to introduce into our lifestyles in an attempt to avoid the effects of climate breakdown.

More than 80% of arable farmland is used for livestock, in both intensive and organic farms, but it produces just 18% of global food calories. We see this a drastic misuse of land, resulting in not only the willing destruction of native habitats, but the production of large amounts of greenhouse gases. Per 100g of beef produced, a further 105kg of greenhouse gases are created. It is possible that the recommended drop in red meat consumption is a conservative figure, and a route more beneficial to the environment would be to give up the foodstuff altogether, replacing it with plant-based alternatives.

These taxes proposed by Springmann et all, would mean a 16% reduction in the processed meat consumed globally, and would result in the greenhouse gas emissions produced by livestock to reduce by 110m tonnes annually.

What are your thoughts?