WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) unveiled the Fostering Overseas Rule of Law and Environmentally Sound Trade (FOREST) Act, new bipartisan legislation that creates a framework for the federal government to deter commodity-driven illegal deforestation around the world. The FOREST Act restricts access to U.S. markets for commodities originating from illegally deforested land, reducing the incentive to sacrifice forests for agriculture use and using this market leverage to improve laws, monitoring, and enforcement in countries experiencing illegal deforestation.
“Commodity-driven illegal deforestation is wreaking havoc on our planet by contributing to the emission of greenhouse gases and threatening biodiversity and wildlife habitats globally,” said Representative Fitzpatrick. “To make matters worse, many Americans are unknowingly funding illegal deforestation when they are purchasing everyday products at the store. I am proud to join Senator Schatz and Congressman Blumenauer in introducing the bipartisan FOREST Act. It’s time we demand transparency from companies who profit off of commodities that are sourced from illegal clearing.”
“Products of illegal deforestation are everywhere. Half of the products in American grocery stores contain palm oil and most of that is coming from illegally deforested land around the world,” said Senator Schatz. “Illegal deforestation is threatening local communities and wildlife and is a major driver of climate change. American consumers are unknowingly and unintentionally driving this destruction, and our bill will help put an end to that.”
“Americans shouldn’t have to worry about whether they are contributing to illegal deforestation every time they browse the shelves at their local home improvement or grocery store,” said Representative Blumenauer. “It’s time to crack down on this dangerous practice—which is polluting our planet, threatening forests and wildlife, and hurting communities large and small.”
Deforestation accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, with nearly 40 percent of all tropical deforestation the result of illegal clearing. Driven primarily by the cultivation of cattle, soy, palm oil, and wood products, illegal deforestation is often associated with corruption, organized crime, and human rights abuses. The FOREST Act builds on the success of the Lacey Act, which prohibits the trade of wildlife and timber from illegal sources, to protect biodiversity and ecosystem resilience in the face of a changing climate. By reducing deforestation, the FOREST Act will also reduce the chances of new global pandemics. Specifically the bill:
- Creates a risk-based framework for increasing transparency and reporting in companies’ international supply chains;
- Provides financial and technical assistance that enable countries, companies, and the U.S. federal government to coordinate solutions to reduce illegal deforestation;
- Incorporates deforestation in financial crime statutes so the Unites States can prosecute those who use the proceeds from deforestation to fund other criminal or terrorist enterprises; and
- Establishes a purchasing preference for the federal government for deforestation-free products.
The framework creates a whole-of-government approach, drawing on expertise from the U.S. Trade Representative, Customs and Boarder Protection, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Departments of State, Justice, the Interior, and Agriculture. The bill also creates a standing advisory committee to bring the expertise of companies and civil society into the process. Companies have long worked on the ground in foreign countries to reduce deforestation, while numerous non-profit organizations have partnered with the U.S. government to identify and provide information about illegal activities related to deforestation. The advisory committee ensures program implementation will be informed by these experiences and expertise.
In addition to Fitzpatrick, Blumenauer, and Schatz, and the FOREST Act is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in the Senate, and U.S. Representatives Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Nanette Barragan (D-Calif.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) in the House of Representatives.
“Illegal deforestation is devastating to biodiversity, livelihoods and to our climate, and it therefore requires urgent global action. Due diligence measures like those being proposed in the USA are an important part of the solution, and would significantly help remove illegal deforestation from US supply chains,” said United Kingdom International Forestry Minister Lord Goldsmith. “There is no pathway to tackling climate change that does not involve massively increased efforts to protect and restore nature, and in particular forests. So as Co-host of COP26, the UK has put nature at the heart of the agenda, and we very much welcome the chance to work closely with other governments to ensure a coordinated international approach to reversing deforestation as a matter of extreme urgency.”
The FOREST Act is endorsed by nearly 40 environmental and human rights advocacy groups, and their letter of support is available here.