Ronan Keohane discusses the economic and political consequences anti-deforestation policy approved by the European Council in light of recent events and proposes possible refinements to the policy which would lessen these consequences
Ever since the industrial revolution, there has been a large number of ways that humanity has contributed to the degradation of our soils and forests which has had a wide range of consequences on valuable flora, fauna and fungi. The European Union is no exception to this. In fact, EU consumption accounts for a large proportion of global deforestation, second only to China, however it is important to take into account that China contains more than 3 times the population of the EU. Due to the fact that the EU exists largely on the top of global supply chains and benefits from having the upper-hand within established economic systems and trade organisations, the EU has a larger amount of power especially in relation to other countries which exist in more subordinate positions of these various economic and international systems put in place. Now is a more important time than ever to think about what sustainability policies we can implement to alleviate the negative effects of the current climate crisis while simultaneously ensuring that people within lower-income countries along with economically disadvantaged people within the EU are not heavily affected by these measures.
Forest preservation and cultivation is a definite necessity due to the plethora of fungi which exists and grows in these forests. The implementation of fungi in modern medicine, food, fashion and even biomedical engineering has become a growing field of research and innovation in recent years due to fungi being such a highly broad kingdom with estimates of up to 11 million different species. fungi further have a large number of different scientifically proven benefits on both the individual human body and the environment as a whole. fungi as a natural resource also breaks down organic matter and can be made into a wide variety of cheap and biodegradable products which are equally as stealthy and competent as everyday plastics. Despite the innumerable ways in which fungi could be utilised for sustainable development in general and ensuring the fulfilment of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals in particular, it has surprisingly remained largely under-utilised in comparison to other natural resources and also under-protected by EU forest conservation policies.
The policy and its consequences
In late June 2022, a policy formally approved by the European Council was recently modified with new rules and implementations. This policy, in short, is to ensure that all products coming into the EU were to not have been the result of deforestation. It officially came into fruition after much deliberation ever since its first proposal by the European Commission in November 2021. The fundamental flaw is that at its core, this policy has a number of implications to the economically disadvantaged both within the EU along with the production workers outside of the EU which are not being adequately addressed. Given that the EU is one of the largest recipients of products which are linked to deforestation, EU policy restricting such imports may appear logical and a positive step forward at first glance. That being said, when contextualising this policy with regards to the EU’s position within the international order along with current affairs events occurring within Europe, it becomes clear who is being put at a disadvantage.
When it comes to disadvantages to those outside of the EU, this policy does not offer sufficient enough protections regarding products which may have a plethora of human rights violations tied to their productions although not defined as being a product linked to deforestation. The main plausible outcome of this policy is that priority would primarily be focused on whether or not products follow the set conditions which fit this specific policy as opposed to other types of products which could be unethical in other ways. The effect this would have on producers who compete to have their products sold within the markets of the global north is that it may increase the production of other types of unethical products through which human rights violations occur in the process of their production. This could ultimately intensify many pre-existing issues of the global south which include hazardous workplace environments and labour exploitation which is rampant and ongoing. In addition to this, the policy does not sufficiently emphasise enforcement methods against black market economies taking the lead in production (which have absolutely no legal constraints) which would ultimately serve to add to the deforestation issue while simultaneously violating the rights of indigenous communities and workers to an even greater extent than before due to their increased demand.
When it comes to disadvantages within the EU, in the broader context of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war, (which entailed the ongoing 2022 Russia–EU gas dispute which has caused the soaring energy prices entailing a record trade deficit along with all of the macro and micro economic consequences of these various events), the consequences of this policy and who they will ultimately affect become more obvious. Ever since the Russo-Ukrainian war and the subsequent international sanctions imposed, there has been a surge in oil and energy prices which has rendered many low income people in the EU helpless and barely making ends meet. The ensuing nationwide strikes which have occurred in highly important economic centres such as France have further slowed the economic growth of the EU. Taking into account the present-day economic conditions of the EU, many people who are of the lower-income brackets will ultimately face the brunt of this policy due to the inevitable rise of food prices which would ultimately occur. This economic context within the EU makes the policy difficult and problematic.
Europe has seen an unprecedented rise in Populist movements which have largely formulated as a result of flaws that exist within the EU that heighten income inequality which has disadvantaged lower income people who feel increasingly marginalised and who turn to ‘othering’ different kinds of elites to scapegoat. Taking into account that the rise of many European populist far-right movements gain prominence during periods of economic turmoil, heightening economic inequality or discontentment with European Union policies, a policy which holds the potential of drastically increasing food prices alongside the current rise in energy and oil prices is considerably risky. The people who are most likely to be scapegoated for this new array of issues presented by these issues are whoever they consider to be ‘elites’ along with disempowered marginalised communities such as refugees (numbers of which are on the rise in the face of the ongoing armed conflicts in Ukraine, Yemen, Ethiopia etc.) who are the most weaponized in order to demonise socially progressive policies and denounce the EU. If the effects of this policy were highly drastic and influenced by another significant event, it could potentially cause a wide range of other issues.
A possible refinement to the policy that could be done to tackle the current climate crisis include the EU implementing and enforcing policies of reforestation and afforestation alongside the anti-deforestation ones within the EU and providing incentives to promote both reforestation and afforestation outside of the EU. This could help promote the cultivation of fungi which could lead to more production of eco-friendly fungal products allowing for the supply to increase which would entail the price to decrease. Implementing forestation policies within our land of jurisdiction could also benefit us in the long run, deforestation is often framed as an issue that is limited primarily to forested areas of countries in the global south, however this is arguably a narrow perspective as it doesn’t fully take into account who is responsible for most of the deforestation along with regular deforestation occurring in the global north. Providing economic incentives for afforestation could also result in increased action. Further, there exists an under-addressed but significant divide when it comes to sustainable development which is the class divide that exists. Many eco-friendly products are considerably more expensive than regular ones so perhaps implementing some kind of a price ceiling on eco-friendly products could ensure that they become more widely used in order to encourage real change.