Tropical Forest Alliance’s Justin Adams says independent action by companies, states and NGOs has not been enough to stop global forest loss. The next decade must be about collective action

Five years ago, business, government and civil society leaders gathered at the UN Climate Summit in New York to make a historic pledge: halve deforestation by 2020 and end it by 2050. Unfortunately, as a recent assessment showed, we have continued to lose forests globally since the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) was launched in 2014.

But that’s not the whole story.

The report makes clear that many companies that endorsed the NYDF will not meet their commitments to remove forest loss from their supply chains. But for companies sourcing soy, palm oil or cattle, the last five years haven’t been a black hole of inaction. Many companies working along the supply chain have made some progress towards their commitments.

Through innovative advances in satellite monitoring, we now have unprecedented knowledge of what is happening at the forest frontier

For one, since the NYDF was signed, there have been leaps and bounds of progress made in efforts to deliver more transparency. Through innovative advances in satellite monitoring, we now have unprecedented knowledge of what is happening at the forest frontier and along each node of the supply chain. Nestlé, for example, is now monitoring 100% of its palm oil supply chain. Leading companies have also driven adoption of sustainable certification, with 19% of all palm oil produced certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). However, with better data and certified products, it’s also become increasingly clear that forest landscapes are even more complex than anyone imagined.

Could companies have done more? Certainly. Acknowledging what has been done allows us to identify ways they can go further and faster.

The last decade has mostly been characterised by lots of stand-alone action, with companies seeking to clean up their own supply chains, forest frontier countries seeking to implement stronger forest policies, and individual NGOs working to protect a specific forest landscape. But these individual actions aren’t adding up to a whole. A wide range of activities and conditions contribute to forest loss, including illegal forest clearing. Governments must step in to enforce laws. Individual companies can’t clean up supply chains on their own. Company action can complement government action, but it can’t substitute for it.

Smallholders produce 40% of Indonesian palm oil. (Credit: KetupArts/Shutterstock)

Going forward, we need to do more to unlock the potential of collaboration among companies, governments, investors and civil society to address the systemic challenges that drive deforestation.

To serve as inspiration for how this can work, we have the case of Indonesia. The country has seen a reduction in deforestation of more than 30% in the last two years compared with the average between 2002 and 2016. As the NYDF report indicates, it is a stand-out example of the potential progress that can be made when the right elements are put into place.

First of all, government action, especially the moratorium on peat conversion, and more recently, palm oil plantations, has been foundational. Private sector actors have complemented government regulations by working with suppliers to implement “no deforestation or peat exploitation” (NDPE) pledges. There is, of course, still much to do, but the country’s progress is testament to the power of collective action. The next frontier is working with the millions of smallholders who produce 40% of Indonesian palm oil. Their yields are often 33-50% that of larger plantations and they face prohibitive costs for certification.

We’re also seeing signs of progress and determination to address deforestation in other countries, in terms of policy making, including Colombia and Peru. In Colombia, for example, the government has worked with businesses on sectoral roadmaps for palm oil, beef and now dairy.

Finance is the key enabler of commerce, it sits behind every tree that is felled and every crop planted

Looking forward, we need to look at how we lift the floor for companies who have not made any commitments. The European Union is showing leadership by exploring how to regulate supply chains with the plan it launched in July 2019. We’re also working to engage China and other emerging markets. It is encouraging that some of the leading announcements in the last few months, for instance the issuance of a $2.3bn green bond to finance sustainable soy production in Brazil, has come from the Chinese food giant COFCO International.

The next step is working with the finance sector. Finance is the key enabler of commerce. Finance sits behind every tree that is felled and every crop planted. We need to engineer a shift so that finance supports more good and less bad and many leaders financial institutions are starting to act, for example BNP Paribas and the Tropical Landscapes Forest Facility.

This week's call by investors representing USD $16.2 trillion in assets to companies to put an end to deforestation in light of the devastating forest fires in the Amazon is an encouraging development.  

 Another recent example is Rabobank’s programme, Kickstart Food, which is all about accelerating the transition to a sustainable food supply. One of the first steps in this programme was the launch of a $1bn facility to initiate land restoration and forest protection initiatives.

Finally, taking everything we’ve learned into account, we need to re-commit to our path and work together. If we do so, we will have a much better story to tell in 2030, and a forest-positive heritage to offer future generations.

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: Taras Vishnya/Shutterstock
NYDF  Palm Oil  deforestation  Soy  RSPO  Rabobank  BNP Paribas  Nestlé  Colombia 

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