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UK unprotected from high levels of deforestation exposure

Delivering legislation to tackle deforestation should be a priority for the newly elected British government. Trase research shows the UK’s demand for beef, cocoa and palm oil continues to drive high levels of forest loss and land conversion in Brazil, Côte d'Ivoire and Indonesia.

2 Jul 2024

Mark Titley, Helen Bellfield

Photo credit: Martin Charles Hatch/Shutterstock

UK legislation establishing rules to prohibit the importation of commodities grown on illegally deforested land was not agreed by Parliament before it was dissolved ahead of the UK general election on 4 July. The UK government had promised “world-leading” action on deforestation under its 2021 Environment Act. In contrast, the EU’s deforestation regulation comes into effect at the end of this year. New Trase research shows how the lack of legislation leaves the UK exposed to high levels of deforestation.

The UK’s average deforestation exposure in 2019–2021 was 15,200 hectares. In comparison to EU27 countries, the UK ranks sixth between France and Belgium. Over the same period, France’s deforestation exposure was 15,900 ha, Italy’s 17,700 ha and Germany’s 22,800 ha.

The UK has the sixth highest deforestation exposure in Europe

The UK’s total exposure decreased by 32% between 2014 and 2021. The biggest change was for oil palm, which saw a 63.8% decrease in deforestation exposure over the period. Trase’s analysis of the EU27 showed that the bloc experienced a similar reduction in total exposure (35.5%). These results are both primarily due to a fall in deforestation linked to oil palm production in Indonesia. However, the latest data suggests that deforestation rates are creeping up again, which is not yet reflected in Trase’s analysis for the UK or the EU27.

There was also a substantial drop in deforestation exposure from imports of soy and cattle products. However, the loss of Brazil’s Cerrado due to the expansion of soy and cattle production is increasing, indicating the need for urgent action.

UK deforestation exposure from beef and oil palm has fallen

The UK was most exposed to deforestation through imports from Brazil (4,530 ha, 29.9%), followed by Côte d'Ivoire (3,150 ha, 20.8%) and Indonesia (1,110 ha, 7.4%). Across all origin countries, the most important commodities were cattle products (3,820 ha, 25.2%), cocoa (3,470 ha, 22.9%) and oil palm (2,100 ha, 13.9%).

UK most exposed to deforestation from Brazilian beef

The UK's total deforestation exposure was larger from the re-export adjusted perspective (15,200 ha) than the direct trade perspective (13,800 ha). This is because, on balance, the UK imports more products indirectly (such as via the Netherlands) that are linked to deforestation than it re-exports itself to other countries. The commodities linked to this difference were cocoa, oil palm, soy and cashew nuts.

By comparison, other countries have much higher exposure via direct trade. For example, the Netherlands’ deforestation exposure is 23,300 ha when adjusted for re-exports, but 69,500 ha for direct trade. This is because the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands is an important entry point for commodities imported into the EU, which are then re-exported to other countries including the UK.

Trase’s analysis also identifies hotspots of deforestation in countries of production linked to UK commodity imports. For example, for cocoa from Côte d'Ivoire, the UK’s deforestation exposure was highest in the departments of San-Pedro, Sassandra and Lakota. However, more than half of the UK’s deforestation exposure was from indirect sourcing, where it was not possible to determine the department of production. The companies exporting most cocoa linked to deforestation were Cargill, Olam and Touton, which together account for two thirds of the UK’s deforestation exposure associated with cocoa imports from Côte d'Ivoire. This information could be used to guide engagement with producer countries and commodity traders to support improvements in supply chain transparency and reduce deforestation.

Hotspots of risk for UK imports of cocoa from Côte d'Ivoire

This analysis highlights the importance of enacting the UK’s Forest Risk Commodities regulation, which Trase calculates will cover 70% of the UK’s deforestation footprint with its initial commodity coverage of palm oil, beef, soy and cocoa.

Trase recommends that the newly elected UK government should prioritise passing this legislation as soon as possible, so that the prohibition on companies using illegally produced forest-risk commodities can be implemented without further delay. The legislation should include critical information about the due diligence obligations on companies for each regulated commodity, reporting requirements, as well as enforcement powers and sanctions. The new government should also establish a robust review process to evaluate the law’s impact and whether it needs to be strengthened and expanded, taking account of the recent Environmental Audit Committee report and using the data presented here.

Download Trase’s UK deforestation exposure factsheet

To reference this article, please use the following citation: Titley, M., & Bellfield, H. (2024). UK unprotected from high levels of deforestation exposure. Trase.

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