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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Fewer forests in our cars

Conference on the challenges of deforestation and forest degradation in the context of climate change, development and biodiversity loss

Brussels, 26 May 2014

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to this Conference on the challenges of deforestation and forest degradation. Thank you for joining us and accepting to share your experience and perspective with us today.

The topics we will address in these two days are challenging for all of us.  Just a couple of months ago, I gave a keynote speech at the 2014 edition of the World Forests Summit, in Stockholm. The fact that it is an annual event is in itself an indication that forest policy is particularly complex, involving many different actors and interests working at many different levels and scales. 

In my speech on that occasion, I pointed out that the challenges posed by deforestation and forest degradation are not disconnected from the challenges we face in moving towards a future where the efficient use of resources should take centre stage, and I will come back to this issue in a moment.

But let me first point out that today's conference is focused on the EU's policy, and is rooted in a number of separate but related commitments which the EU has made to addressing deforestation and forest degradation these past few years.

In 2008, the EU committed to halting global forest cover loss by 2030 and reducing deforestation by at least 50 % by 2020, and as part of the global biodiversity targets to 2020 we have agreed to at least halve and, where feasible, bring close to zero the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, and to significantly reduce their degradation and fragmentation.

In our Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, we committed to reducing indirect drivers of biodiversity loss, and specifically to reducing the biodiversity impacts of EU consumption patterns, particularly for resources that have significant negative effects on biodiversity.

And at the international level, we agreed at Rio+20 to strive to achieve a "land-degradation neutral world". The fight against deforestation should be seen as a central contribution to that effort.

Our intention in organising this conference is to take stock of how far we have come in delivering on these commitments, and what still needs to be done.

It is the start of a process of consultation and dialogue with as many interest groups as possible, both in and outside the EU, to help us consider where to go next.

I would therefore invite you to use this opportunity to channel your ideas, concerns and recommendations to support our work here at the European Commission, but also your own work. I hope we will all be able to take something away from this conference.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Some of you are already familiar with the study which the Commission financed on the impact of the EU consumption on global deforestation, published last year. 

To start the process of reflection, let me recall some key figures and facts from that study:

Over the period 1990-2008 the EU Member States imported and consumed, as raw commodities or finished products, the equivalent of nine million hectares of land (that is three times the size of Belgium) -- land that was previously forested and then converted to other uses.

This wide-scale ‘import of deforestation’ into the EU mainly takes the form of crops and livestock products, with the food sector contributing 60% of our ‘imported deforestation’.

The consumption of oil crops - such as soy and palm oil - and their derived processed goods - as well as meat consumption - also plays a major role in shaping the impact of EU consumption on global deforestation.

In other words,  without being entirely aware of it, we are all, on a daily basis, eating and wearing forests in the form of cookies and steak, lotions and beauty products -- products that in reality are ‘forests’ – we just don't see it! What is even worse is that, even if we are aware that some products could contain components somehow associated with deforestation processes, as consumers, we for the most part don't know what to do about it, and don't know what alternatives there are.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am convinced that our approach and strategy for tackling the challenge of deforestation and forest degradation needs to part of our wider resource efficiency strategy.  We need to decouple our economic growth from resource use. This means moving away from traditional economic models, old technologies and failed ideas.

Our economic system carries a legacy of decades, if not centuries, of resource‑intensive growth. We are far too tied to a linear economic model, which leads to the extraction of ever more resources, only to quickly discard them as waste. And allow me to say “what a waste!”, what a waste of precious resources.  And when you consider that when we throw away forest resources we are at the same time increasing the vulnerability of entire ecosystems, habitats and species, the wastefulness is all the more untenable.

But the reason for bringing all of you together today is not to dwell on the problem, but to think of solutions to it. A momentum is building to move to a circular economy where virtually nothing is wasted, where we get far more value from resources by designing sustainable products that last and that can be easily repaired, re‑used, re-manufactured, eventually recycled or safely returned to the environment.

Such circular economy systems are essential to delivering the levels of resource efficiency that will enable us to decouple economic growth from resource use and its negative environmental impacts, including deforestation and the degradation of forest ecosystems.

In the coming weeks I will present a package of initiatives that will further pave the way in this direction and help close existing loops. We want to develop an enabling framework for the circular economy in the EU, with measures combining smart regulation, research and innovation, encouraging investment and attracting financing.

The package will also include a Communication on food waste, which is particularly relevant to some of the issues you will discuss today and tomorrow: What is the role of demand for and consumption of commodities and products in the loss of forest cover and biodiversity at global level? Or on a more positive note: how can collective action in these areas contribute to solutions?

In parallel, we are also addressing deforestation and forest degradation on a global scale: through our FLEGT process; through the multilateral REDD initiatives; through our Resource Efficiency Roadmap; and through our diplomatic channels and bilateral dialogues with producers and consumer countries.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Deforestation and forest degradation are very complex issues, and the science is not uncontroversial. International drivers and policies are important, but they interact with complex and diversified local drivers and realities that cannot be ignored.

For instance, in quantitative terms only 33% of the crops and 8% of livestock products associated with deforestation are traded outside the countries or regions where they are produced, meaning that consumption in the producer countries or regions is also playing a major role in deforestation. A role that clearly also needs to be addressed.

We are keenly aware of this in looking at the role of biomass in our renewable energy mix.  We need to study these interactions and carefully consider their implications when assessing possible measures.

So, although there are good reasons not to jump too far ahead too quickly, this shouldn't mean we do nothing more than business as usual, because it's fairly obvious that business as usual won't deliver on our promises and commitments.

In the new EU Environment Action Programme, we – that is, the Commission, the European Parliament and the Member States – have agreed to consider the development of an EU action plan on deforestation and forest degradation. 

Given the transition currently underway in the EU, with the election of a new European Parliament and a new Commission taking office later this year, it will be for my successor to decide on how and by what means these objectives will be pursued. What is sure, however, is that whatever form it will take, an Action Plan on deforestation and forest degradation should identify the role each of us will need to play; for the institutions or governments we represent, and as individual citizens and consumers.

For the Commission, one important role will be in coordinating our work. I'm happy to say that we're off to a good start, since this conference has been organised by three different Commission services: Environment, Climate Action, and Development Cooperation, which already says a lot about the complexity of the issues you will be discussing today and tomorrow. And even more services will need to be associated in the follow-up discussions and consultations. Policy areas such as agriculture and energy, trade and finance, as well as instruments like public procurement, corporate reporting, due diligence, and voluntary schemes all need to be part of the solution.

I would like to conclude by wishing you an interesting and productive debate, which I look forward to hearing about.

Let the future be with less forests on our plate or in the tanks of our cars, and with more forests in the areas where they are supposed to be … playing the role of invaluable silent guardian of our sustainable future.

Thank you.

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