How to act against deforestation?

Naturevolution starts a reforestation project around the Makay massif to protect it. On this occasion, we draw up in 6 articles an overview of the situation of deforestation, its causes, actions initiated by governments, initiatives in terms of reforestation, and finally all possible actions to combat deforestation.

Pepper plantation in Sulawesi.
Java pepper plantation, a new factor in deforestation here in Indonesia © Yann Bigant


Much of the world’s deforestation results from the overconsumption of urban populations (or those consuming similarly) and rising standards of living in a globalized economy where free trade agreements are proliferating. As Europeans, we are among the first to be affected.

A higher standard of living often means an increase in the consumption of meat, palm oil products, chocolate, petrol and car tyres, etc. Many of these products are linked to deforestation.

The deforestation caused by our consumption is called ‘imported’, because it is caused in other countries of the world: places where deforestation is either encouraged by the local government or not combated for lack of resources or political will. Unfortunately, it is these countries – such as Brazil, Indonesia and the DRC – that today contain the last large tropical forests on our planet.

If you’re reading this article, it’s a good bet that you belong to that part of the world’s population that is sufficiently well-off (even if you don’t feel like it !) to have an impact on forests on the other side of the world. What’s the good news? Our power as Europeans to influence deforestation is all the greater ! Overview.

Makay Forest, Madagascar
Forêt du Makay, Madagascar © Evrard Wendenbaum

Becoming vegetarian/vegan (or almost)

Cattle and soybeans, which are exported as livestock feed in many countries around the world, are the leading cause of deforestation in South America. According to Greenpeace, cattle farming is responsible for the destruction of nearly 63% of the Amazon rainforest, and the situation is now worse in the large adjacent forest basins. Globally, livestock is responsible for 73% of deforestation (FAO, 2020).

Much of this deforestation is attributable to Europeans, who are the world’s second largest importer of soybeans. While beef and lamb have a completely disproportionate environmental footprint on the climate and should be abandoned altogether, European poultry are almost entirely fed on imported soya. Thus, the “impact of deforestation” of French poultry is 6 times greater than that of beef. In short, there is not really a ‘meat replacement’.

Not convinced ? Read the full Greenpeace report:
Meatbite – Europe is fuelling the climate crisis with its soy addiction.

A scientific meta-study published in the journal Science in 2018 and covering 119 countries, 38,000 farms, and 90% of everything we eat around the world, gives dizzying figures on the impact of meat: at the global level, 83% of agricultural land is used for meat and dairy production (83%!), all this to produce only 37% of the protein and 18% of the calories… while generating 60% of the greenhouse gas emissions of the agricultural sector !

The impacts considered by the study range from land use (deforestation, pesticides, loss of biodiversity and natural habitats, etc.) to emissions responsible for climate change, water consumption and pollution (water, air). Hard to get more exhaustive. The study received little coverage in France, but a detailed article in French can be found here, as well as a very comprehensive article in English on The Guardian.

The study also points out that ‘responsible meat’ is not an alternative: “ The most ‘sustainable’ (smallest impact) meat and dairy products have a much greater impact than the least sustainable crops and cereals. This conclusion is in line with the findings of the Greenpeace report above.

Impact of individual actions on GHG reductions
This histogram shows the impact of individual actions in terms of reducing greenhouse gases (from the report Faire sa part? / The Shift Project). If this diagram refers here to global warming and not only to deforestation, it is worth remembering that livestock farming is one of the largest emitters of GHGs, particularly – but not only – due to deforestation.

It is worth noting some of the perverse effects of world trade: European meat, for example, which is heavily fed on imported soya, is itself exported. France, where red meat consumption has been decreasing for more than 20 years, just got from China the lifting of a 17-year embargo on beef imports: the French government hopes to export several thousand tons of French beef to China, while the free trade agreement with Mercosur plans to increase imports of beef from South America! Which brings us to the next point: government action and the means for individuals to influence it.

Meat as a driving force for deforestation

Influencing public decisions

Through elections: vote, and not for just anyone :)

In France, people complain about the government’s inaction on environmental and climate issues. But voters continue to bring to power candidates and political parties that do little to defend the climate and biodiversity. Emmanuel Macron and LRM launch a liberal agenda to sign more free trade agreements (most recently CETA with Canada and the agreement with Mercosur), and thus increase global trade rather than local trade. Their commitments in terms of climate and biodiversity fall far short of the current challenges.

Even after the resounding resignation of Nicolas Hulot, the European elections continued to favor LRM and the Rassemblement National (ex-FN). The EELV score, although acclaimed, was only around 17% and the other political parties (PS, LFI etc. ) with a strong environmental agenda did even less. So don’t forget that elections are one of the ways to make a difference, and that the environment is the most important issue of the 21st century.

Through the courts

Tired of waiting for political commitments on the environment, citizen groups have taken the case to the courts in several countries: the Netherlands (successfully!), Colombia, South Africa, etc. In France, four NGOs (L’Affaire du siècle, FNH, Greenpeace and Oxfam) have decided to take the French State to court to comply with its climate commitments and protect our lives, our territories and our rights: add your signature to L’Affaire du siècle.

Recognizing the crime of Ecocide – A large global movement (and particularly in Europe) advocates the legal recognition of the concept of ecocide, or environmental crime, which would provide far more legal means to sue states and private companies for environmental damage. Find out more here: the End Ecocide on Earth website and the entry Ecocide on Wikipedia.

Through activism

The great advances in environmental or social rights have been made by small groups of motivated individuals who have been able to bring together and lobby politicians and private groups through various methods, including the media. It is not the purpose of this article to go into detail, but it remains that activism is one of the most effective ways to achieve meaningful progress. There are local groups all over France and Europe, focusing on a variety of environmental causes. These include the local groups of Les Amis de la Terre and Extinction Rebellion movement. Also check out the map of struggles to discover the big useless and harmful projects near you (some have links with deforestation in the world, others with the climate or even natural habitats and biodiversity in France).

Allée des baobabs, Madagascar © Evrard Wendenbaum

Change of bank

Banks bear a huge share of the responsibility for the climate crisis and the destruction of forests through their investments. The NGO Global Witness led a survey on the role of French banks in deforestation : it appears that “since the adoption of the law on the duty of care in 2017, three French banks – BNP Paribas, Natixis and Crédit Agricole – support companies associated with deforestation”. The French association Canopée accuses BNP Paribas, which supports ‘deforestation soybeans’ in South America to the tune of several billion dollars.

Between 2013 and 2019, the French financial sector supported five of the six most harmful agro-industrial companies (…), directly or indirectly involved in deforestation activities in the three largest tropical forests of the world, namely the Brazilian Amazon, the Congo Basin and Papua New Guinea. This support, amounting to almost €2 billion, makes France the second largest contributor to these companies in the EU. – “La finance flambeuse”, Global Witness

These are often the same who exacerbate the climate crisis: a study published by Oxfam and Les Amis de la Terre indicates that “the investments of four French banks (BNP Parisbas, Crédit Agricole, Société Générale, BPCE) produced 4.5 times more C02 than the whole of France in 2018. »

It has never been easier to change banks and transfer accounts, for example to Crédit Coopératif (current accounts and savings booklets) or La Nef (savings booklets). There is also a new initiative, Helios, which we have not explored.

Mangrove on Sulawesi Island
Mangroves of the Lasolo Delta, Sulawesi, Indonesia © Yann Bigant

Supporting forest protection associations

Voting with one’s wallet, with one’s ballot and reducing consumption are powerful actions that we as Europeans can do every day. But it won’t be enough! Many NGOs are developing excellent projects on the ground to preserve existing forests in the best possible way, reforest to reduce pressure on them, and develop projects that benefit both biodiversity and local communities. But nature conservation receives only about 3% of global philanthropy and NGOs – including Naturevolution – are chronically underfunded to carry out their projects.

After setting up projects around economic activity (beekeeping, ecotourism) and social activity (education, school gardens), Naturevolution launches in 2019 the “Forêts Villageoises” reforestation project around the villages of Makay, both to reduce the pressure on the forests of the massif and to provide resources to the communities. So make a donation to help us! Monthly preferably ;-)

Tsiajorambo forest nursery in northern Makay © Tom Dépériers / Naturevolution

Chocolate and palm oil

Yes, chocolate! Global demand for cocoa is increasingly driving deforestation. While deforestation is the largest in Brazil in terms of total surface area, cocoa is responsible for the sharpest acceleration of deforestation in 2017 and 2018. They take place even in the national parks of West Africa! Read the excellent report by the NGO Mighty Earth The bitter deforestation of chocolate (2016), the report Petites Douceurs (2022) on the inaction of big brands on the subject, and watch the episode Bitter Chocolateof the series Rotten on Netflix.

France Nature Environnement has partnered with Mighty Earth to produce a ranking of the best-known brands. You can also sign a petition, but the most effective way is to act on the request.

Palm oil, on the other hand, is responsible for almost 20% of global deforestation and is at the expense of the last primary tropical forests in Indonesia and, increasingly, in the DRC. It should be noted that palm oil is hidden in many products and is sometimes invisible on ingredient lists, as denounced by the NGO Foodwatch, which calls for more transparency in labels (petition). Finally, thanks to Total and the French government, palm oil in France is mainly hidden in the tank of your car !

It is not necessarily appropriate to ban palm oil and replace it with another oil (which could have a worse environmental footprint), but it is necessary to reduce its consumption, avoid industrial food products rich in palm oil, and try to ascertain its provenance (a task that is still difficult today). You can also sign Greenpeace’s petition against palm oil deforestation in Indonesia. Namely, these strategies are working and palm oil-related deforestation has fallen sharply in Indonesia, but it is moving to other regions (e. g. Congo DRC).

Car tyres

The production of natural rubber has exploded since 2000 with a 75% increase in global production, particularly through the manufacture of tires (70% of rubber production is devoted to this). It is one of the main drivers of deforestation in Southeast Asia, which today produces the majority of the natural rubber used in the world. WWF, Mighty Earth and Global Witness have denounced deforestation, land grabs and the eviction of local communities and indigenous peoples in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos (see video below).

What can I do ? Use the car less to start with (which also reduces our palm oil consumption and carbon emissions), but also buy only tires with a good wear index to maximize their durability, or tires reconditioned and manufactured in France, or ask for certification (FSC or equivalent) of the rubber of these tires.

The Impact of Car Tires on the Forest in Southeast Asia

And the rest: leather, paper, wood, etc.

Leather, paper, wood and other commodities are no longer the main drivers of deforestation compared to other threats, but they do contribute to it.

Leather – Leather is sometimes almost more the engine of intensive farming than the meat itself. Far from being a by-product of the meat industry, meat sometimes becomes a by-product of the leather industry, making it a major cause of deforestation in South America. Furthermore, the treatment of hides uses highly toxic products that are often released into the environment and workers working in tanneries are exposed to extremely toxic pollution (see this video).

Paper – If you have prints to make at home, or to order on behalf of your company, choose certified papers, but not with any labels. Opt for 100% recycled papers or with FSC-certified virgin fibres. The best thing is to have documents that combine 2 or more certifications, such as the FSC label, the Blue Angel label or the European Ecolabel.

The Imprim’Vert or PEFC labels often promoted in France offer very few guarantees because these labels were put in place by, respectively, the printers and the papermakers themselves.

Wood – When buying wood (parquet, furniture, garden furniture, etc.), choose FSC-certified wood. In the absence of this certificate, give preference to furniture made from local wood species (beech, oak, chestnut…) as well as short circuits. Greenpeace provides some additional tips on this page.

The limit of individual actions

Let’s extend the question to the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis as a whole: Eating less meat, flying less, riding a bicycle and other ‘small’ individual actions… will that be enough to save the climate and biodiversity? Not completely, partly because it is utopian to think that everyone will implement these actions, and partly because changes at the root of the problems are needed and are often beyond the reach of everyday actions (hence the need for activism, voting and bringing governments and businesses to justice).

Doing your part 6 - Carbon 4
The power and responsibility of individuals, companies and the state in the face of the climate emergency.
Click on the image to enlarge. Source: Doing your share of Carbon 4.

But should we still do nothing, telling ourselves that “it’s no use”? Quite the contrary ! Behavioural changes are essential. The most impactful of them mitigate the seriousness of the situation. For example, between 1990 and 2010, the only item of consumption by the French that saw its carbon footprint decline was food, thanks to the significant decrease in the consumption of red meat, a decrease linked to health scandals and health concerns at the time. (read the assessments published by Carbone 4 or thearticle by Terra eco), but increasingly motivated by climate and forest protection.

Above all, making a choice to consume or not to consume is a way to change one’s relationship to the world, to become aware of its impact and to push one’s thinking further. Studies have also shown that changes in public opinion and behaviour translate into changes at the political level. And, of course, individual actions must be combined with the other means described in the paragraphs above ‘Weighing public decisions‘ and ‘Supporting a reforestation project‘. So it all starts with us !

The whole series of articles

An article by Yann Bigant and Gaëtan Deltour

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