Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

What Europe’s new climate law means for Africa

The European Union Deforestation Regulation will hurt farmers across the continent
Dati Bendo
Ursula von der Leyen, commissioner of the European Union, meeting with William Ruto, president of Kenya. President Ruto is the Chair of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On Jan. 1, 2025, the European Union Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) will go into enforcement. The law, which restricts production and imports of agricultural products sourced from deforested land, is meant to help the EU reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 and “protect the health and well-being of citizens and future generations.”

It’s an important step towards addressing the urgent climate crisis, one that many wealthy high-emission countries seem slow to take. So why is it a bad idea?

The law has many key provisions that make it appear as a powerful piece of climate legislation at first glance. It reworks the EU’s existing deforestation law, which mainly focused on the timber trade and still allowed for certain forms of deforestation. Under the new bill, no removal of natural forest is permitted to create land for agricultural use.

The EUDR also focuses on seven key products that account for especially high amounts of deforestation in their production: palm oil, soy, wood, cocoa, coffee, cattle and rubber. However, the law will not only restrict trade of these specific products, but any products including them.

When imported to the EU, these products must be verified to have come from deforestation-free land, effectively banning the sale of products coming from deforested land. However, the process of verification is much more difficult than most independent African farmers, called smallholders, can manage.

The Guardian covered the impact of the EUDR on Ethiopian coffee smallholders, who’s one billion dollars in annual exports will now be subject to the new restrictions. Many farmers there are concerned about the difficulty of providing the information necessary to verify their land, as such records are hard to obtain if they even exist.

Côte d’Ivoire, one of the world’s largest rubber exporters, is also facing a difficult adjustment. 80 percent of its rubber production comes from smallholders who will struggle to prove their land meets the requirements.

At a certain point, one must wonder why the people who will be hurt most by this bill are the millions of smallholders across Africa who are among the most innocent in the advancement of climate change. The per capita electric consumption of Sub-Saharan Africa sits at a meager 180 kilowatt-hours. In Europe, that figure is 6,500 kWh.

Additionally, Africa is far more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than the European Union given its hot, largely equatorial climate and the extreme weather that is already impacting the continent. In March, all schools in South Sudan were closed during a severe heat wave that lasted for two weeks. Kenya, Tanzania and other areas of East Africa are currently grappling with harsh rainstorms leading to major floods and landslides. Hundreds have died and thousands are displaced.

The deadly weather is compounded by a lack of reliable infrastructure. Much of the continent, especially rural or isolated areas, still relies on old and low-quality roads and railways. According to a report by consulting firm Deloitte, poor infrastructure can lead to as high as a 40 percent increase in trade costs, making it even more difficult to afford improvements and further stifling economic and environmental growth.

While Africa may be poised to hurt the most from climate change, the continent is doing its part in resisting. The African Union (AU) has a vested interest in protecting the continent from these impacts. In September, they passed the Nairobi Declaration, which affirms the AU’s commitment to “strengthen actions to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, deforestation and desertification.”

It’s important to recognize that the fight against climate change isn’t waged on a purely environmental front, but also economic and social fronts. When economic and social factors shift, environmental factors will shift as well. More money for smallholders means a better chance at a sustainable future as we navigate the tumultuous 21st century. Restricting their economic status via the EUDR only serves to hurt Africans while the EU pats itself on the back for a job well done. It is climate injustice.

Owen Ray can be reached at [email protected].

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