Supermarkets will soon be forced to ensure that products on their shelves do not contribute to illegal deforestation, the environment secretary Steve Barclay stated in a speech at the Cop28 climate conference in Dubai, announcing a new legislation that will cover palm oil, cocoa, beef, leather and soy products.
Agricultural expansion causes an area the size of the UK to be ploughed up each year to meet British demand for products.
“I find it heart-rending to see the way illegal deforestation is destroying the habitats of tigers, jaguars, orangutans and many other endangered species, and I know many people across the world feel the same,” Barclay said.
“It’s why we are cleaning up supply chains to make sure that big businesses in the UK aren’t responsible for illegal deforestation. It also means shoppers can be confident that the money they spend is part of the solution, rather than part of the problem,” The Telegraph quoted Barclay as saying.
The legislation was first introduced in the 2021 Environment Act, but could not be enforced until the government had laid out the products to which it would apply.
Green groups have said the laws do not go far enough because they only cover illegal deforestation. Some 70 per cent of deforestation for global products is illegal, but there is little understanding of where goods on British shelves come from.
Several supermarkets have already vowed to clean up their supply chains to stop illegal deforestation for products such as soy. Under the new legislation, businesses that have a global annual turnover of £50 million and use over 500 tonnes of regulated commodities a year will be banned from using them if sourced from land used illegally.
These businesses will also be required to undertake a due diligence exercise on their supply chains and to report annually.
Tanya Steel, CEO of WWF, which has pushed for the legislation, said it was “an important first step to getting illegal deforestation off UK shopping shelves.”
“However illegal deforestation is only part of the picture – with wildlife numbers plummeting and wild habitats facing destruction, we must stop felling forests, full stop,” she said. “Forests absorb 30 per cent of the carbon we emit from burning fossil fuels, so nature is clearly our greatest ally in tackling climate change.”