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California lawmakers introduce legislation to fight tropical deforestation

In 2015, the largest seizure of Peruvian timber was made in the Yacu Kallpa vessel. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Research Agency (EIA).

In 2015, the largest seizure of Peruvian timber was made in the Yacu Kallpa vessel. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

  • California’s AB 2002 bill would require any contractors supplying the state to comply with strict rules against tropical deforestation.
  • It would apply to a wide range of products, including palm oil, beef, soybeans, and timber.
  • A similar bill stalled and died last year, but its sponsors are optimistic that this time around it will fare better.

Lawmakers in California have introduced an ambitious bill that would force all contractors supplying products to the state to comply with strict rules against tropical deforestation. Sponsored by assembly member Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), the California Deforestation-Free Procurement Act would require those contractors to commit to ending deforestation, peatland conversion, and community and worker exploitation in their supply chains.

“We’re giving California the opportunity to take real leadership in the fight against rainforest destruction by making our purchases — and our global impact — more transparent, more sustainable and more ethical,” Kalra said in a press release that accompanied the legislation, known as AB 2002.

California’s economy is the fifth-largest in the world, bigger than countries like the United Kingdom, with imports from tropical countries worth tens of billions of dollars every year. Advocates say the bill would bolster the state’s reputation as a national leader in progressive environmental regulations.

“What happens in California matters,” said Jeff Conant, director of Friends of the Earth’s international forest campaign. “Because of the economic weight of the state, legislators there see themselves as actors on the global stage.”

Friends of the Earth, an international environmental advocacy organization with a large footprint in California, is one of the co-sponsors of the bill.

A similar bill was introduced last year, but it died in the state senate’s Appropriations Committee at the hands of pro-business legislators concerned about its economic impact. This time, supporters of the bill say they’re optimistic about its chances.

In an email to Mongabay, the California Chamber of Commerce, a business advocacy group that releases an annual list of “job-killer” bills, said it did not have a position on the new bill.

If it goes into effect, it would cover a wide range of products and materials purchased by California’s government, including food services for public schools, biofuels, and paper used by state agencies. Businesses that work with the state will have a grace period to adjust to the new rules, which won’t apply to contracts signed before Jan. 1, 2023.

Timber is inspected in Myanmar for export via ports in this 2019 file photo. Photo by Ann Wang for Mongabay.

But once those rules kick in, every contractor supplying products to California will have to certify that none of the materials they use were “grown, derived, harvested, reared, or produced on land where tropical deforestation occurred on or after January 1, 2021.”

Contractors working with the state will also have to adopt and enforce policies that protect indigenous people who are affected by their supply chains. Any materials sourced from areas where indigenous people live will have to be harvested with the “free, prior, and informed consent” of those communities.

If those contractors violate the rules, willingly or not, they can be hit with a heavy fine. The legislation also makes them responsible for ensuring that any subcontractors they work with are also in compliance with the law.

The bill is a part of a larger effort to crack down on supply chains that damage or destroy tropical forests, through the adoption of policies and practices aimed at “No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation,” or NDPE. Tropical deforestation is a major contributor to climate change — one study from the World Resources Institute estimated that if the associated carbon emissions were measured as a country, it would rank third, just behind China and the United States. Last year, the EU released what it calls an action plan toward heavy regulations on imported products that cause tropical deforestation. And according to Conant, legislation similar to California’s will soon be introduced in New York state as well.

“The effort to advance these bills is very much in sync with similar efforts in France, Norway, and the EU,” he said. “The California bill is not being advanced in a vacuum but is part of a focused strategy to advance demand-side policies to stem the tide of rainforest destruction.”

Banner image: In 2015, a massive seizure of illegal timber was made from a Peruvian ship, the Yacu Kallpa. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).