- Indonesia now leads the world in terms of reducing deforestation according to new WRI data
- More evidence about Indonesia’s low deforestation rates could benefit the EU Commission as it implements the EUDR
- It will give the Commission a greater reason to not classify Indonesia as ‘high risk’ – and save the Indonesia-EU relationship
The new data release from the World Resources Institute adds to a growing pile of evidence that palm oil simply isn’t the deforestation bete noir Europe thinks it is.
The headline takeaway was that Indonesia has reduced its deforestation rates more than any other country over the past eight years or so, by a whopping 65 per cent. And this has taken place as global deforestation has increased, particularly across South America.
The key question here is how the WRI and other data will play into the implementation of the EUDR.
Consider the following from the data.
Costa Rica’s reduction in deforestation is slightly smaller than Indonesia’s. Costa Rica, however, is often considered as the poster child for environmental management in Central and South America, and is often praised for how it has turned its deforestation rates around over the past three decades.
Or consider also that Bolivia’s contribution to global deforestation is twice as large as Indonesia’s – but it has nearly half the forest area. And some of the country’s largest exports to the EU are coffee and soyabean – but Bolivia hasn’t been on the EU activist radar.
Consider also that a country like Australia has lost 21 per cent of its tree cover since 2000 – more than Indonesia’s at 18 per cent.
In other words, as with many politicised environmental debates, the situation is not that simple.
Can Brussels gain from this?
The party with possibly the most to gain from the WRI data is – counterintuitively – the European Commission. Indonesia and Malaysia are both campaigning to not be considered high risk under the EU Deforestation Regulation.
Both countries have gone to pains to point out that their deforestation rates have slowed significantly in the case of Indonesia, or stopped altogether in the case of Malaysia.
There are a large groups of campaigners that have sought to discredit Indonesia’s own data on its low deforestation rates. This will now be difficult, if not impossible, but these same campaigners will likely argue that there are flaws in the data.
The Commission is aware that classifying Indonesia as medium or low risk would be politically difficult and raise the ire of many groups. But the growing pile of evidence gives them the ability to stare down those groups. More significantly, it allows the Commission to salvage its relationship with Jakarta.
But in addition to this, classifying Indonesia as high risk would also send a message that a strong track record of environmental improvements is not enough to be considered ‘low risk’. This could be perceived as punishing the best performers – and would, again, be detrimental to the Brussels-Jakarta relationship.
Brazil is the biggest loser
The data also brings up complications for other countries, notably Brazil, which remains the largest deforester, and also has a record of increasing deforestation over the past decade. It is highly unlikely that Brazil could be classified as anything other than high risk.
This is unlikely to upset President Lula, who last week indicated that Brazil could not go forward with a trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur, South America’s large trading bloc.
The issue? Despite finalising that agreement in 2019, the EU is now seeking to renegotiate the agreement with stronger penalties for Brazil if it doesn’t meet certain environmental commitments.
This comes just weeks after Indonesia declared it would ‘go slow’ on its negotiations.
This begs the question: can the EU actually finalise any deals with other major economies, but particularly those that it relies on for the agricultural commodities that feed its cattle (soy) and are essential for its food production (palm oil)?
It’s blindingly obvious that Europe is understandably distracted by Russia, as well as China. But they need to start paying attention to other parts of the world.