Justin Adams of Tropical Forest Alliance calls for companies to look beyond zero-deforestation commitments in individual supply chains and work with other partners to transform landscapes and boost farmer livelihoods

As someone who cares passionately about the future of our planet, I have been cheering on the growing global movement of students in the school strike for climate, who are demanding a different future, and showing they are determined, unstoppable, and mobilising for climate action.

Our forests are critical to the fight against climate change, as well as the protection of biodiversity, and the ability to feed our global population. But the efforts to halt deforestation have not proved anywhere near as effective as had been hoped. International Day of Forests is an opportunity to galvanise more collective action.

The truth is, deforestation continues apace. An estimated 18 million acres of forest, an area roughly equivalent to a country the size of Panama, are lost each year. This is responsible for more than 20% of the planet’s carbon emissions. And the biggest culprit, according to the World Resources Institute, continues to be commodity agriculture.

We are sitting close to the original 2020 date that was set by the Consumer Goods Forum to eliminate deforestation from supply chains.  We will collectively fall short of this original aspiration. Even so, I refuse to dwell on the negatives.

The collective might of big brands has not been strong enough to steer the world away from deforestation

Progress has been made. Much has been learnt about the underlying issues. We know that supply chain companies cannot succeed in bending the curve of forest loss in isolation.  Indeed, it is clearer than ever that only collective action across sectors can address deforestation. Here’s my three-point perspective:

1.       Let’s celebrate the progress

Together, the supply chain movement has achieved a lot. Where market signals are strong, big advances have been made in traceability and transparency, and certification is playing a useful role. This, in turn, has encouraged the big producers and traders to demonstrate their sustainability credentials. Several of the world’s best-respected consumer brands, including Unilever and Nestlé now have a good story to tell. And, all the while, more pressure is placed on the wider market to follow suit.

2.       Let’s acknowledge the limitations

At the same time, we have discovered the limitations of individual supply chain approaches. Many of the world’s biggest brands, traders and producers may be onside. Together, they may wield awesome buying power. But, even so, their collective might has not been strong enough to steer the world away from deforestation. Consider, for example, that RSPO certification still only encompasses 19% of global palm oil supplies, which is roughly equivalent to the total exports to Europe and the US combined.

Similarly, market forces have not been able to solve the complex knot of issues around governance, transparent land rights, and the rule of law. Nor has the voice of big business been sufficient to resolve critical issues for the smallholders or the speculators who, as new data shows in Indonesia, are now behind most of the deforestation.

So, yes, the commitments, the actions, and the market signals have a big impact, but are nowhere near as influential as everyone initially hoped.

The Cocoa & Forests Initiative is transforming landscapes in Africa. (Credit: Mars Inc)

3. Let’s accelerate collective action and catalyse change

Going forward, we do need companies to accelerate action to clean up their own supply chains. But we also need them to reach out to other partners in the landscapes where commodities are grown. 

A great example is the Cocoa & Forests Initiative, a public-private partnership that brings together 31 companies, like Mondelēz, Mars Inc and Cargill, the governments of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, the World Cocoa Foundation, and IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative. They are reaching out way beyond the supply chain, to transform the broader cocoa forest landscapes – covering forest protection and restoration, sustainable cocoa production, and farmer livelihoods.

We need to work together to build new forest-positive narratives highlighting the role that sustainable land management plays

Another example of a more transformative initiative is SoS Cerrado. This brings together some of the world’s largest retailers and manufacturers, including Tesco, Marks & Spencer, McDonald’s, Ahold Delhaize, Metro AG, and Walmart, to call for no further deforestation in the Cerrado biome of Brazil. Again, it reaches beyond individual supply chains, encouraging sustainable land management practices, and seeking to support farmers.

Across the world, there is scope for many similar approaches at jurisdictional or landscape scale,  especially in those regions that account for a large proportion of commodity production.

Working together – as a coalition of parties who care about sustainable production, livelihoods and our forests – is the only way we can deliver more transformative change on the ground. I know we can forge new models for success, and the Tropical Forest Alliance is going to double down to accelerate jurisdictional approaches in the run-up to 2020 and beyond.

Making a difference, climate activist Greta Thunberg. (Credit: Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock)

Of course, there are other levers beyond western supply chain action. For example, key players in emerging economies (for example China, which accounts for 62% of the world’s soy imports and a third of all pulp imports) are eager to demonstrate positive momentum ahead of the 2020 UN Biodiversity Summit. We also aim to catalyse more green finance mechanisms (especially as funds finally start to flow under REDD+ schemes).  Overall, we need to work together to build new forest-positive narratives highlighting the role that sustainable land management plays in underpinning healthy food systems and healthy communities.

The potential for collective action is significant and the time is now.  It will be neither fast nor easy but let’s be steadfast in a shared commitment to finally bend the curve on deforestation.  Let’s take all the lessons we have learned from individual action over the last 10 years and renew our efforts to support communities and tropical forest governments to take the necessary steps only they can take.

If you represent an organisation that is in any way implicated or involved with forest risk commodities, let’s work together to end deforestation. To quote Greta Thunberg, “No one is too small to make a difference.”

Justin Adams is director of Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, a public-private partnership, working to help producers, traders and buyers of forest-risk commodities to achieve their commitments to deforestation-free supply chains. The TFA currently includes 150 partners from government, the private sector and civil society. Its work is supported by the governments of Norway, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Main picture credit:  Filipe Frazao/Shutterstock
Tropical Forest Alliance  Greta Thunberg  RSPO  #SchoolsStrike4Climate  Cerrado Manifesto  Cocoa & Forests Initiative  International Day of Forests  deforestation  soy bean  Cerrado 

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