Jean Monnet Chair on Deforestation and Forest Degradation


Environmental law as it currently stands does not provide relevant responses to climate and environmental ‘emergencies’, given their entanglement with economic growth and over-consumption patterns. Furthermore, it is anchored in traditional legal systems (domestic, regional, international), which poses a limitation for addressing the interface between local impacts and global effects.

As the largest international player in trade and foreign investment, the EU crosses different planetary boundaries. There is thus an urgent need for developing a new regulatory paradigm that strikes a balance between the role played by the EU as world’s largest economy and trading bloc and its responsibility in maintaining the Earth system in a resilient state. Several regulatory measures implementing the 2019 European Green Deal (EGD) address the EU global footprint while raising environmental protection standards in third States. This the case of Regulation (EU) 2023/1115 of 31 May 2023 on Deforestation Free Products.

Deforestation and forest degradation

Deforestation and forest degradation are occurring at an alarming rate, aggravating two major worldwide crises: climate change and the loss of biodiversity. 420 million hectares of forest – about 10% of the world’s remaining forests and an area larger than the European Union – have been lost worldwide between 1990 and 2020 (FAO, 2020). The main drivers of deforestation and forest degradation are linked to both the EU market and international trade. Indeed, the EU’s demand for resources causes unsustainable systematic large-scale and global impacts. The import of commodities and goods in the EU increases the environmental footprints in other continents (through material, carbon, water, and land use) and thus puts pressure on the global environment. For instance, the EU is considered as the world’s biggest per capita importer of commodities embodying deforestation.

EU’s legal instruments tackling deforestation and forest degradation

For the last twenty years, the EU has been active in curbing illegal logging and related trade. In 2003, the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan aimed at ensuring that only legally harvested timber is imported into the EU from countries agreeing to take part in this scheme. The 2005 Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Regulation (FLEGT Regulation) includes a prohibition on imports into the EU of timber products exported from VPA partner countries, unless the shipment is covered by a FLEGT license.

However, this regulation has been undermined by three major weaknesses. Firstly, this is a voluntary scheme given that a FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) must involve a partner country. Given that few third States have been taking part in this scheme (only 3% of timber imports to the EU covered by an operational VPA system), it has not contributed to reducing illegal logging. Secondly, FLEGT does not address deforestation but only legal operations (around 30% of deforestation destined to commercial agriculture in tropical countries is deemed to be legal). In 2010, the EU adopted Regulation (EU) No 995/2010 which aims at reducing the consumption of illegally harvested timber; laying down the obligations of operators who place timber products on the market has not been met.

Regulation (EU) 2023/1115 of 31 May 2023 on Deforestation Free Products aims to overcome the weaknesses of the previous regulatory instruments (FLEGT VPAs and Regulation 995/2010). It should minimise consumption of products coming from supply chains associated with deforestation or forest degradation and increase EU demand for and trade in legal and ‘deforestation free’ commodities and products. In particular, this groundbreaking legislation is placing due diligence obligations on the importers of certain commodities and on product supply chains.

Other research projects related to the Jean Monnet chair

The Jean Monnet chair buttresses two other research projects supervised by the Chair holder:

  • the FNRS project on the impact of the Deforestation Free Products Regulation on the cocoa supply chain in Ghana and Ivory Coast,
  • the FNRS WelCHANGE project in cooperation with Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech (J.-F. Bastin) on the impact of the Deforestation Free Products Regulation on importing tropical wood products from Indonesia and RDC.

Ground-breaking nature of the Jean Monnet Chair

Given the global and transversal nature of the climate and environmental crises, our project focuses on the role played by the EU in curbing deforestation and forest degradation through due diligence obligations. It is ground-breaking as, in reflecting the multi-sectoral character of the EGD and one of its Deforestation Free Products Regulation, it brings together a range of legal disciplines (climate law (REDD), environmental law, forestry law and international trade law), which are usually examined separately as well as it combines tropical forestry ecology and geography.

In addition, the Chair will enhance cooperation with African and Asian universities.


In the framework of its Jean Monnet Chair, the chair holder is either organising seminars either taking part in conferences.

  • In January 2024, the chair holder organised in Ouagadougou two 2 conferences on the role of the European Union in forest conservation (Administration des Eaux et Forêts, Thomas Sankara University). A course on this subject was given to Burkinabé students studying for a Master’s degree in public law.
  • A conference will be organised in April at Cape Coast University, Ghana and in July in Kigali, Rwanda.

Expected impact

Our project will yield significant lessons for law and policymakers dealing with international trade. As the EU cannot wait for other regions to catch up in achieving EU climate neutrality, our project will reinforce the EU’s forefront global leadership by making a timely contribution to the implementation of the EGD objectives.

The Deforestation Free Products Regulation saw light of day thanks to the massive support of the European population. The topic is thus of interest to a very large number of European citizens, who are aware of the impact of their overall ecological footprint, particularly by consuming products that are not sustainable. There will indeed be a strong interest from consumer and environmental NGOs, as well as citizens, to know whether EU Member States and companies importing products falling under the scope of the Regulation are correctly applying the new rules.