25 October 2017
For the first time, the scale of the impact of UK consumption of key consumer products is measured in a joint report by WWF and RSPB, and calls on the Government to review our impact on the world
London, 25 October: Every year the UK needs an overseas area the size of Greece to produce imported key products of beef and leather, cocoa, palm oil, pulp and paper, rubber, soy, and timber. Land equivalent to the size of Croatia is used to produce UK goods that originate in places where deforestation, social risks and wildlife loss are significant issues.
The report Risky Business, published on the same day as a High Level Meeting on Deforestation Free Supply Chains co-hosted by HRH The Prince of Wales, Founder of the International Sustainability Unit and President of WWF-UK, and The CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman, demonstrates the huge overseas impact that our imports may be having on forests, wildlife and nature.
More than 50% of packaged supermarket products contain palm oil, the annual imports of which require a land area more than half the size of Wales. 65% of this comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil is the leading cause of deforestation in Borneo, responsible for up to a quarter of tree loss, and has led to a 25% reduction of orang-utan territory in just 14 years. Half of all our natural rubber, used mainly in tyres, is also produced in these countries, putting further strains on the homes of orang-utans and tigers including the areas of Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia, and Sabah in Malaysia.
The majority of UK soy imports are sourced from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. This has driven catastrophic loss of Brazil’s vast tropical savannah the Cerrado. With over 10,000 plant species, and over 1600 species of reptiles, mammals and birds, including jaguars and maned wolves it is some of the most varied and fertile grasslands on earth but has already lost around 50% of its natural landscape. In two years the Cerrado, which once covered a quarter of Brazil, lost an area the size London every two months.
Lang Banks, Director of Advocacy at WWF said:
“The consumer choices each one of us in the UK makes on a daily basis could be unwittingly helping to drive the devastation of important wildlife and habitats overseas. This report only considers seven key commodities, so if we factor in others such as rice, coffee, tea then the size of our impact is likely to be even greater. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the deforestation and destruction that our consumption has on our planet.
“As the UK Government prepares to publish a plan to improve the environment over the next 25 years it is crucial that we don’t just look at the UK but also our impact on the world. Global trade is vital, but we need the UK Government, business and the public to step up to the plate and play a crucial part in realising the scale of impact we are having on our world, and to protect it for future generations.”
Other key findings of the report include:
- We have a footprint in countries with unique wildlife including 730,000 hectares in Argentina, 520,000 hectares in Indonesia and over 400,000 hectares in Malaysia and Côte d’Ivoire every year
- Each year we require over 4 million hectares to provide our timber, 1.7 million hectares of soy products and 1.2 million hectares worth of land for palm oil.
- There has been a huge growth in timber imports, from 8 million tonnes in 2011-12 to over 14.5 million tonnes in 2015; much from the rising demand for fuel wood.
- Demand for cocoa creates an annual footprint nearly four times the size of Greater London.
- The UK imports almost half a million tonnes of beef and almost 60 million square metres of bovine leather each year, creating an impact on the world one-and-a-half times the size of Belgium.
Ruth Davis, Deputy Director, Policy and Partnerships at RSPB said:
“The UK is heavily reliant on other countries for the products we consume. This has significant consequences for the planet. We, as a country, now have the opportunity to show global leadership, in not only protecting our own nature but also ensuring that our demand for products grown and manufactured overseas does not cause environmental degradation and destruction. A failure to act will have not just environmental consequences but will also damage our long-term prosperity and those of UK businesses.”
Some companies are already leading the way in recognising environmental and social risks, but all now need to make bold new commitments to protect their future and those of consumers. As the UK Government prepares to publish the upcoming 25 Year Plan for Nature, it needs to acknowledge that we have a global role to play in protecting our natural environment, not only in the UK but also the effect of our consumption overseas.
For further information, please contact:
The full report can be found here: wwf.org.uk/riskybusiness
WWF is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organisations, with more than five million supporters and a global network active in more than one hundred countries. Through our engagement with the public, businesses and government, we focus on safeguarding the natural world, creating solutions to the most serious environmental issues facing our planet, so that people and nature thrive. Find out more about our work, past and present at wwf.org.uk.
The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.
 13.6 million hectares
 About 6 million hectares
 High Level Meeting on Deforestation-free Commodity Supply Chains by 2020: How to Accelerate Progress'
 1.1 million tonnes on average each year
 1.15 million hectares
 Soy imports have land use of 1.68 million hectares of which 77% comes from these countries