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EAC launches new forestry inquiry

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has announced that it is to look at the links between the sustainability of the UK’s timber industry, imports of key commodities, and global deforestation.

With global timber demand set to quadruple by 2050, and given the commitment to promote timber use in construction as part of the UK’s Net Zero Strategy, domestic demand is also likely to increase. However, the UK is the second highest importer of wood in the world, importing 82% of all its timber in 2020, of which almost a fifth was in the form of wood pellets. It is estimated that around one fifth of the UK’s imported timber footprint is from countries considered to have high social and/or environmental risks associated with their forestry practices. There are also questions around the ability of domestic supplies to meet future demand.

In 2019, Global Forest Watch estimated that 10 football pitches of primary tropical forest around the world were lost per minute. The loss of tropical primary forest in 2021 resulted in carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to the annual fossil fuel emissions of India.

It is estimated that agriculture is responsible for around 90% of global deforestation, with half of the food consumed in the UK imported from overseas. Just seven ‘forest risk’ commodities – soy, cocoa, palm oil, beef and leather, paper, rubber, and timber – account for a land footprint equivalent to 88% of the UK in size every year. It is estimated that fuelwood imports account for 32% of the UK’s total timber imports and these have doubled since 2015. Proposals for bioenergy generation in the Net Zero Strategy will likely require an increase in the supply of sustainable biomass feedstocks by 2050.

In this context, the EAC will explore how best to scale up a sustainable and resilient domestic timber sector to reduce reliance on imports, whilst also achieving its wider nature recovery and biodiversity goals through woodland creation. This new inquiry will explore the degree to which UK supply chains contribute to deforestation overseas, the effectiveness of the Government’s efforts to curb this, and how the UK works with international partners to tackle deforestation.

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said: “Forests around the world are the lungs of the planet, locking in damaging carbon and breathing out oxygen. Global deforestation is threatening this: it destroys precious biodiversity and is one of the greatest threats to warding off runaway climate change. Yet here in the UK we continue to import over 80% of timber, some of which is from nations that have damaging track records of deforestation.

“We must make sure the domestic timber industry is fit for the future and can support our net zero ambitions, while better understanding the impact any imports have on the wider world. This follows up our earlier report on the UK’s footprint on global biodiversity, where we called on the Government to assess accurately the environmental impact of the UK’s consumption of key commodities. I invite anyone with views on global deforestation, and how UK woodland creation can contribute sustainably to meeting increasing demand in the UK timber sector, to respond to our inquiry.”

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