CDP’s Morgan Gillespy and Rainforest Alliance’s Leah Samberg argue that the new Accountability Framework, launched this week by a coalition of civil society partners, will close the ‘accountability loop’ that has prevented more than 500 companies from making real progress on removing deforestation from commodity supply chains

Forests are a critical piece of the climate puzzle, and protecting them is essential if we are to avert the very worst impacts of climate change. By halting deforestation and investing in reforestation and wetland conservation we could achieve up to a third of the global greenhouse gas reductions needed by 2030 to stay on track with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

In fact, research from The Nature Conservancy shows that halting deforestation has the potential to drive more impact than taking every single car off the road. In addition to their role as key climate regulators, forests protect global water resources and support 80% of the planet’s terrestrial biodiversity.

Yet global tree cover loss reached a record 29.7m hectares in 2016, and shows no signs of slowing. In 2018, 12 million hectares of forests were lost in the tropics alone, including 3.6m hectares of primary rainforest that has not been subject to major human impacts in recent history. These natural forests have been shown to be key climate regulators, storing far more carbon than plantations or agroforestry.

A lack of consistency when measuring progress, means companies have not been held accountable for their bold pledges

The production of agricultural commodities is the single biggest driver of deforestation globally. How and where products like beef, soy, wood, palm oil and cocoa are produced has an enormous impact on the continued existence and health of the planet’s forests. The companies that produce, process, use, and sell these products have therefore been thrust into the spotlight and given a leading role in safeguarding forest landscapes.

In order to protect forests, these companies need to break the link between agricultural production and forest destruction. This requires transformation of the markets for many commonly used products, away from a system that incentivises continued expansion into forested landscapes and towards one that supports sustainable sourcing and makes forest protection and reforestation economically and politically viable.

In recognition of their influence on global forests, nearly 500 companies have made commitments to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains over the past decade. These companies span global supply chains, from growers and traders to manufacturers and retailers.

In 2018, 12m hectares of forest were lost in the tropics alone. (Credit: Greenpeace)

Despite this positive trend, confusion over how to go about fulfilling their commitments, along with a lack of consistency when it comes to measuring progress, means companies have not been held accountable for their bold pledges.

In fact, CDP data shows that few of these commitments are supported by the policies, company systems or actions necessary to implement them and drive real progress on the ground. Similarly, civil society, investors, and consumers have few commonly accepted tools with which to measure and evaluate the progress that companies may be making. In the meantime, forest loss continues apace.

The Accountability Framework, launched today by a coalition of civil society partners, seeks to close this implementation gap by giving companies the support they need to turn their pledges into action. It builds on existing efforts, and the collective experience of the environmental and social organisations that make up the Accountability Framework initiative (AFi): The Nature Conservancy, Forest Peoples Programme, Imaflora, National Wildlife Federation, Proforest, Rainforest Alliance, Resourcetrust, Social Accountability International, World Resources Institute, WWF, Verité, and independent experts Gita Syahrani in Indonesia and Silas Slakor in Liberia.

By using the framework, companies can help ensure that their commitments and reporting practices reflect agreed-upon norms and best practice

The framework defines what “good” looks like when it comes to setting, implementing, and demonstrating progress towards corporate commitments to eliminate deforestation, ecosystem conversion, and human rights abuses from agriculture and forestry supply chains.

The framework provides consistent measures of progress across commodities, regions, and supply chain positions and presents a path to companies to credibly demonstrate continuous improvement and fulfillment of commitments. By using the framework, companies can help ensure that their commitments, activities, monitoring systems, and reporting practices reflect common and agreed-upon norms and best practices.

Strong commitments and robust implementation are essential; however, for companies to be held fully accountable for their activities, progress towards fulfilment of commitments needs to be reported using simple and robust metrics. This reporting must be comprehensive and consistent, so it can be used to support effective decisions by stakeholders determining which companies to buy from, invest in, or divest from.

To meet this need, CDP and AFi are working together to make it easier for companies to use the CDP reporting platform to report against the principles of the Accountability Framework using standardised and widely accepted methods. Companies that report on their supply chain activities and commitment implementation using CDP will use many of the same definitions, concepts and metrics that are laid out in the framework, allowing for clear and consistent assessments of progress and performance.

And for those companies yet to make a commitment, CDP provides a consistent approach for them to understand their risks, dependencies, and impacts related to forests, a crucial first step in taking concrete action.

Closing the “accountability loop” by aligning AFi guidance with CDP’s reporting platform will drive two closely linked improvements. First, this alignment will increase the ability of companies to demonstrate progress towards commitments in ways that are robust and interpretable to stakeholders. Secondly, it will increase the ability of stakeholders – including buyers, investors, consumers, and civil society organisations – to make informed and appropriate decisions based on company performance.

With 12 years left to make unprecedented changes to limit global warming, we all must be accountable for protecting our vital natural climate solutions

This accountability loop will ensure that commitments turn into action, and that action leads to supply chains free of deforestation.

With 12 years left to make unprecedented changes to limit global warming, we all must be accountable for protecting our vital natural climate solutions.The global community is coming together to provide harmonised guidance, tools, and visions for the realisation of ethical supply chains.

Companies now have the opportunity to set clear commitments to reduce deforestation, take action in implementing them throughout their supply chains, and credibly demonstrate the part they are playing in industry transformation. We can’t afford to wait any longer.

Morgan Gillespy is director of forests at CDP, and Leah Samberg is a scientist at Rainforest Alliance. For more information, see The Accountability Framework and CDP’s disclosure platform

Main picture credit: The Accountability Framework Initiative
Rainforest Alliance  CDP  Accountability Framework Initiative  TNC  deforestation  FMcGs  soya  beef  palm 

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