14 April 2015

A spoon as an excavation tool

Written by Pekka Tuovinen
Published in Blog posts under Sustainability

The growing concern for the state of the world’s forests is justified. An impressive number of studies based on various research methods have been published over the past ten years. In some parts of the world, deforestation has been stopped, but the situation is not at all under control at the global level.

South America and Africa have recorded the poorest development. Forests are being logged uncontrollably, and the biodiversity is diminishing at an equally rapid pace. In light of the numbers, the situation looks better in Asia than it actually is, mainly because of extensive reforestation in China.

Why are forests being logged?

The main reasons are the expansion of agriculture and unsustainable forestry. The European Commission carried out an extensive study titled The impact of EU consumption on deforestation: Comprehensive analysis of the impact of EU consumption on deforestation, Technical Report - 2013 - 063.    

The study was prepared by a group of widely known operators, including the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), among many other research institutes.

The results make gloomy reading: between 1990 and 2008, the deforestation effect caused by harvest products imported to Europe equaled a total of 7,400,000 hectares. This is an area that is larger than Ireland.

What commodities were imported to Europe? In other words, what caused the deforestation?

According to the report, soybean cake (feed) and soybeans imported from South America, mainly Brazil and Argentina, represent 56% of the deforestation effect. The fourth largest commodity group was palm oil imported from Indonesia, representing 9%. Palm oil is mostly used for food products and chemicals.

The primary task of the researchers was to examine the reasons behind the phenomenon and present methods for stopping deforestation. Their most important suggestion reads as follows: “Extend the sustainability criteria for biofuels for other uses of the same crops (food, feed, products, materials).” This makes sense: Europe has agreed on strict responsibility requirements to ensure that forests and other carbon-rich areas are not used for cultivation. However, these requirements apply to biofuels only. In other words, the direct effects of biofuels are under strict control.

What will be done to fight deforestation? Is the goal to make all cultivation responsible?

Unfortunately not. The EU is focusing on indirect changes in land use that are caused by biofuels. These include expansion that serves food production and results from some of the current raw materials being used for biofuels. The models that are used to evaluate these effects are vague. In other words, the EU is trying to control indirect effects by imposing additional regulations on biofuels, which represent the smallest group of uses, even though the most effective method would simply be to eliminate the direct adverse effects - that is, to require responsibility from all cultivation.

Deforestation continues to be a pressing problem, and it cannot be solved by imposing additional restrictions on a field that is strictly regulated to begin with. The use of crops for fuel can be limited to its current level to eliminate all fears of expansion. However, the pressures of population growth and increasing consumption can only be addressed to a certain degree by increasing crop yields. The recommendations of the group of experts behind the study provide a clear model for direct methods that can be used to stop a serious global problem.

Pekka Tuovinen
Sustainability and Supplier Compliance, Neste