Corporate Deforestation Commitments Lag Promises, But Optimism Remains High

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By Kelli Barrett

19 November 2015 | Deforestation is hidden in over 50% of packaged products found in supermarkets, revealing, when discovered, complex and global supply chains entrenched in environmental degradation and forest loss. And despite growing awareness, public pressure, the especially hopeful signing of the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) and a plethora of other commitments to halt deforestation in its tracks, progress is slow. Brand new data released this week says the global community is not on track to halve forest loss by 2020 or eliminate it altogether by 2030.

In its annual results report, the UK-based nonprofit Global Canopy Programme’s (GCP) Forest 500, a rating system which tracks the activities of 500 “powerbroker” entities in relation to curbing deforestation, says only 8% of the 250 powerbroker companies have zero or zero net deforestation commitments in place. And investment firms fared even worse as less than 1% have adopted sustainable commitments.

“Through Forest 500, we’re able to track not just the good guys but the laggards as well,” Andrew Mitchell, the Founder and Executive Director of the GCP, said during a media launch event.

Likewise, Climate Focus, an advisory company on climate policy, released findings in collaboration with the GCP that specifically assessed NYDF progress. It found signatories behind schedule in meeting the 2020 deadline.

Both these reports coincide with the most recent findings from Ecosystem Marketplace’s Supply Change, another online tracking tool that measures progress on corporate commitments. Commercial agriculture, primarily the production of palm oil, pulp and paper, timber, soy and cattle, drive at least 70% of tropical deforestation, the report says. One year later, roughly half of the NYDF company endorsers disclosed actions taken to secure sustainable supply chains and alter this figure.

Reasons for Optimisim

It’s not all bleak, as attention shifts from companies that deforest to companies that invest in forests. French bank BNP Paribas committed to zero net deforestation in its agricultural lending, the first Forest 500 investor to do so. The move could signal investment firms to follow. Supply Change

also found substantial movement in the palm oil space, attributing it to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

And while there aren’t clear indicators that the pace of forest loss is slowing, considering forest regrowth as an offset would mean the pace of loss is indeed slackening. Climate Focus Director and Co-Founder Charlotte Streck emphasizes that replanted trees can’t replace lost forest ecosystems but the rate of reforestation or afforestation is a positive signal.

Besides this, Streck says one year out from the signing of the NYDF is too soon to assess on the ground actions. That will take months and years. What we see right now is actions, pledges and progress, she says. “However, it is not enough and it’s important to continue monitoring these activities and final results.”

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