Shelve illegal deforestation now: study

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Nearly 70 per cent of tropical forest cleared for cattle and crops such as soybeans and palm oil were deforested illegally between 2013 and 2019, a study has shown, warning of the impact on global efforts to fight climate change.

Illegal logging was behind the loss of 4.5 million hectares of forest - an area the size of Denmark - on average each year in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa, said the report by US-based nonprofit organisation Forest Trends.

"If we don't urgently stop this unlawful deforestation, we don't have a chance to beat the three crises facing humanity - climate change, biodiversity loss and emerging pandemics," Arthur Blundell, report lead co-author and an advisor to Forest Trends, said.

Environmentalists and some politicians in the United States, EU and Britain are calling for legislation that would stop goods grown on illegally cleared lands from ending up on supermarket shelves.

Palm oil cultivation in Indonesia, and soy and beef farming in Brazil - home to roughly 60 per cent of the Amazon rainforest - were key drivers of illegal deforestation, the report said.

The production of other agricultural commodities, such as cocoa used to make chocolate in Honduras and West Africa, and corn in Argentina, was also behind illegal forest clearance.

In Indonesia, at least 81 per cent of forested land cleared to produce palm oil is estimated to be illegal, the report said.

In soy-producing countries, such as Brazil, about 93 per cent of land converted to grow the crop was illegal, while 93 per cent of forest clearance for cocoa plantations was illegal and 81 per cent for beef, the report said.

The report defined illegal deforestation as forest clearance that broke national laws, such as loggers and companies failing to obtain permits from landowners or conduct environmental-impact assessments, as well as cases involving tax evasion.

In the United States, Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii and congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon have announced plans for a bill that would ban US imports of agricultural commodities produced on illegally deforested land.

"Most US consumers would strongly agree that it's immoral, outdated, and preposterous that products sold on supermarket shelves can be traced back to illegally deforested land," Blumenauer said in a statement.

Cutting down forests has major implications for global goals to curb climate change, as trees absorb about a third of the planet-warming carbon emissions produced worldwide.

Carbon emitted from illegal forest clearing for agriculture accounted for at least 41 per cent of all emissions from tropical deforestation between 2013 and 2019, the report said.

"Illegal deforestation is a key driver of forest loss and creates significant risk for supply chain companies and financial institutions that may unwittingly supply or finance illegally sourced commodities," Justin Adams, executive director of the Tropical Forest Alliance, said.