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Europe's rubber demand poses biggest threat to African forests, NGO says

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By Méabh Mc Mahon
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An unidentified man sits next to a felled tree at the Afi mountain forest reserve near Ikom, Nigeria, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2007.
An unidentified man sits next to a felled tree at the Afi mountain forest reserve near Ikom, Nigeria, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2007.   -   Copyright  GEORGE OSODI/AP Photo

European-funded industrial rubber plantations are contributing to mass deforestation in West and Central Africa, but rubber remains absent from the European Union's plans to tackle deforestation, according to new research from the NGO Global Witness.

"Europe is definitely complicit in all of this. It is not just the companies and the European tyre manufacturers but also the European banks who are supporting the production of rubber," Giulia Bondi, Global Witness' senior forests campaigner, told Euronews.

The EU has claimed it is leading the drive to tackle deforestation, with world leaders agreeing to end deforestation by 2030 at the recent UN climate conference in Glasgow.

But Global Witness says that rubber plantations are actually expanding, forcing locals from indigenous communities off their land and into poverty.

"Successful tire industry lobbying has pushed the Commission to get rubber out of the list," Bondi said.

The European Tyre and Rubber Manufacturers Association said in a statement sent to Euronews that they are committed to "supporting initiatives aimed at halting deforestation."

"Our industry, together with other key stakeholders, has been active on devising solutions for sustainable supply chain of natural rubber and will continue to do so."

They added that the industry has been "concentrated on tackling deforestation by making a difference on the ground, engaging with local communities and smallholder."

Negotiations are underway on the EU's deforestation plan and a vote is expected in the Autumn.

Some MEPs say the Commission claim they want to take a science-based approach but then make politically motivated decisions.

"It is not about negotiating which industry should be left out of a regulation. It is about us Europeans taking up responsibility for our global deforestation footprint so I think it is important that studies like those from Global Witness show us that we have a contribution in different areas of the world," said German Socialist MEP Delara Burkhardt.

With so much at stake for industry, finding compromises won’t come easy, despite the climate emergency so Europe's green ambitions might take much longer than expected.

Watch our video report in the player above.