Strong ‘No Deforestation’ Commitments Save Forests and Feed People
Founder & Executive Director, The Forest Trust
Soy, cattle, rice, palm oil, and logging are the principal drivers of deforestation. As global population increases from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2040, and as more and more people around the world rise out of poverty into the middle class, the demand for these commodities and practices will continue to rise with them. To address these issues, and in advance of the World Forests Summit hosted by the Economist in March, the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship partnered with the Stanford Institute for the Environment and Mongabay News to surface the latest insights and innovations at the intersection of deforestation and sustainability. This debate will also set the stage for a larger discussion on deforestation at this year’s Skoll World Forum in Oxford, UK.
Co-founder and CEO, Imazon
Environment Unit Head, Roberto Marinho Foundation
Founder & Executive Director, The Forest Trust
“How do you hold a hundred tons of water in the air with no visible means of support? You build a cloud” – K.C Cole
As a global community, we have so far failed to answer this most pressing question; we have yet to build our cloud. Deforestation rates are down in some places, but overall, our forests continue to disappear much as they have for the past 50 years, driven principally by increasing global demand for food. Can we feed the world and save our forests? Yes, we can, and the solution lies in the global supply chain and the message some companies are now sending their suppliers: “If you cut down trees, I won’t buy your product.” This has the power to silence bulldozers. It’s already doing so and now it’s time to go to scale.
The current deforestation debate has narrow bounds. We’re still discussing modifying or accelerating uptake of the same old tools that have so far failed to stem the tide. Take roundtable certification – we apparently just need more of it or more important companies to do it. Yet, it seems nonsensical to promote roundtable certification when twenty years of roundtable certification has preceded the discussion.
Similarly, REDD+ and Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) are not off the ground enough to make anything but a restricted local impact. They’re not new initiatives, they’re just not happening, and it’s not for lack of money – there’s something inherent stopping their uptake. Sure, we could have more meetings to try to push them through some tipping point but no one knows where that tipping point is, nor how much time and resources are needed to get us there, if ever. Time is something our remaining forests have in short supply, which makes it doubly odd to hail Consumer Goods Forum CEOs environmental heroes for their irresponsibly weak commitment to no “net” deforestation by 2020; another seven years of deforestation, what are we thinking?
All the while, global supply chains are chopping trees. Food companies and supermarkets have within their supply chains the power to feed a growing population and stop deforestation. While millions of dollars and endless meeting hours go into trying to create new markets for REDD+ and PES, global supply chains already have fully functional markets operating every second of every day with trillions of dollars running through them. The answer is staring us in the face.
We need strong ‘No Deforestation’ commitments enforced by companies throughout the supply chain with mechanisms to reward and teeth to punish. They fit with the market and are simple: “Deforest and I will not buy your product”. This great start is made exponentially stronger when contracts are cancelled because suppliers are engaged in deforestation. Such commitments held and enforced by everyone in the supply chain act like the Brazil soy moratorium – they restrict land available for cultivation to non-forest land. And if it were a constant refrain sung by the top 100 companies, it becomes much stronger than a politically imposed, and thus fragile, moratorium; it becomes just another part of doing business. Backed by civil society eyes and ears on the ground to monitor company performance against their No Deforestation commitments and to expose, via social media, those caught misbehaving and we have a true multi-stakeholder process to restrict deforestation. By restricting the available land bank, we also have a very strong mechanism to drive yield improvements from the available land to feed growing populations.
We push roundtable certification, REDD+ and PES and celebrate weak No Deforestation commitments because our analysis of the problem is lazy – we’ve failed to push our thinking right down to the Lowest Common Denominator (LCD). Soy, cattle, rice, palm oil and wood fiber are agro-industrial commodities exploding in scale at the expense of forests because globalized supply chainsdemand them. Globalization is the LCD, the principal driver of deforestation, not soy or rice farmers, cattle ranchers, palm oil plantation or forest managers. All our efforts to control deforestation so far focus on these people. We see them as the problem and so develop standards to guide and control their activities, all the while hoping that industries full of them will go our way. They haven’t because their customers haven’t yet asked them to do so; it’s that simple.
REDD+, PES and roundtable certification fail because they don’t reward global supply chain players for slowing deforestation; quite the contrary in some cases. Companies cut down forests so why would paying money to governments under REDD+ affect deforestation rates? Likewise, in PES schemes – who gets the money? Who pays it? Not the customer, so the signals are not clear for global supply chain players.
Our cloud has three pillars:
1. Stop cutting trees.
2. Increase crop yields on lands you already have.
3. Engage with local communities and help smallholders upscale.
You stop deforestation and feed the world by restricting and intensifying production on land you use.
Change is happening. The world’s largest food company, Nestle, the world’s second largest palm oil grower, Golden-Agri Resources and now, the world’s third largest pulp and paper company, Asia Pulp & Paper, have already made super strong No Deforestation commitments that are being implemented as we speak. Such commitments turn bulldozers off – now. They do not require workshops, meetings, millions of dollars or the creation of complex markets with thousands of mitigation measures. No Deforestation commitments send strong signals through the existing multi-trillion dollar globalized market – via global supply chains – and forests are being protected today as a direct result.
It’s so far nowhere near enough; we need to go to scale. We need leaders who others can follow, more who will say: “If you cut down trees, I will not buy your product.” Its beauty lies in its simplicity. It’s a cloud, let’s build it.