Barbara Davies-Quy, Head of Programmes for Size of Wales
Jamie Green, Communications and Marketing Manager for Size of Wales
The COVID-19 pandemic has put humans’ complex relationship with nature in the spotlight. As policymakers look to secure a green recovery from COVID-19 and prevent future pandemics, addressing nature loss and the climate crisis will be vital. One of the key ways to achieve this is through halting and reversing global deforestation.
Wales is well placed to lead the way on this. Not only are we a world leader in recycling and renewable energy, but we made history by becoming the first Fair Trade Nation and having the first parliament to declare a Climate Emergency. However, to have an impact where it matters, Welsh politicians of all stripes must commit to becoming the world’s first Deforestation Free Nation and eliminate imported deforestation from our economy.
The threats to our forests and the ramifications for the climate are stark. According to the World Resources Institute, the world is losing an annual 18 million hectares of tree cover which roughly equates to 9 times the size of Wales. This accounts for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. We all contribute to the deforestation economy, often unknowingly, through purchasing products such as beef imported from South America, meat fed on soy feeds, palm oil, cacao, and coffee, that can all lead to the cutting of tropical forests.
The Senedd has many of the powers it needs to tackle this problem and help consumers reject imported deforestation. In the recently launched Deforestation Free Nation report published by Size of Wales, with the support of RSPB Cymru, and WWF Cymru, we highlight a series of measures which, if implemented, could see Wales lead the way in tackling imported deforestation.
The first of these includes understanding and addressing the full extent of the problem. The Welsh government is currently committed to cutting its emissions to net zero by the year 2050 and setting carbon budgets to help meet this goal. However, this analysis and the targets set must take into account the emissions we import every year via forest risk commodities from other countries, so that we don’t end up outsourcing our emissions overseas.
There are also practical measures we can take to set the trend of eliminating deforestation from everyday trading practices. These include reforming Welsh public sector procurement and setting targets to end the use of suppliers who contribute to deforestation. The Welsh Government and local authorities can also have a substantial impact by ensuring their pension funds are deforestation risk free.
Businesses will need to play a major role in this transition. They should be incentivised and supported by the Welsh Government to look at their own supply chains, through the Economic Contract and the creation of a public register of deforestation free businesses. This would help consumers and businesses make better and more ethical choices.
Huge strides can also be made through working with farmers to introduce deforestation free farming practices. This includes eliminating soy livestock feed originating from deforestation risk regions and adopting nature and climate friendly farming methods such as organic farming, agro-ecology, and agro-forestry. A post-Brexit agricultural policy in Wales should help farmers transition to such low-input farming systems, and reward farmers fully for the environmental benefits they deliver. This could be built on by the Welsh Government better promoting locally produced products and creating a ‘Deforestation Free’ label for Welsh producers.
Given that many of the commodities that are driving deforestation end up in the food and drink we consume, a bold new food strategy should be introduced. This should drive and reward local sustainable supply chains and prioritise only sustainable goods from overseas. Key to this is supporting Fair Trade products which not only guarantee a fair income to farmers but also include criteria to ban deforestation.
A caveat is that Wales cannot become totally deforestation free without UK-wide action. The Welsh Government must lobby Westminster policymakers on several fronts. This includes passing legislation that requires all UK companies to check their supply chains and prevent importing goods that contribute to deforestation. Secondly, as the UK government begins negotiating post-Brexit trade deals, Welsh policymakers must demand high environmental and human rights standards.
Despite the hard work of policymakers and citizens alike to make Wales more sustainable, our ecological footprint is estimated to be five times the size of our nation according to the Stockholm Environmental Institute. If we’re to let the next generation inherit a habitable planet, we must act now to stop tropical deforestation. Addressing climate change and protecting our forests simply cannot wait.
Going into next year’s Senedd elections, we need a cross-party consensus that addressing the climate and nature crisis requires bold and urgent action. If all parties commit to becoming a Deforestation Free Nation, Wales can once again be on the right side of history and set the pace for the world to follow.