Deforestation pledge by companies ‘will very likely’ not be met

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Five years after a landmark pledge to cut the rate of natural forest loss by half and restore 150 million hectares of land by 2020, the global state of forests has dramatically worsened, reveals a report.

Food giants including Danone, Mondelez and Nestle are failing on commitments to halve deforestation by 2020, according to a global assessment on the states of forests.

The 2014 New York Declaration on Forests collected over 200 signatories from countries, companies and green groups, including the governments of Colombia, Norway and the US and consumer goods giants such as McDonalds, Johnson & Johnson, Walmart and Unilever, Kellogg’s, Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Yum! Brands.

But a progress report on the declaration’s goals found that between 2014 and 2018, an area of tree cover the size of the UK, or about 26 million hectares, was lost every year. The annual rate of global deforestation increased by 43%.

Particularly concerning, said the report, was the loss of pristine and irreplaceable primary tropical forests, which are home to valuable carbon sinks and the greatest biodiversity on the planet. The rate of loss of tropical primary forests is rising by over 40%, equal to 4.3 million hectares per year.

Stephanie Roe, Associate Senior Consultant, Climate Focus & Researcher, University of Virginia: said: "We will very likely not meet the ambitious commitment to reduce deforestation by 50% and increase restoration by 150 million hectares by 2020. It's been five years since the NYDF was launched but we find ourselves in even more need for forest protection and restoration than before."​ 

Justin Adams, Executive Director of the Tropical Forest Alliance, said: "The Tropical Forest Alliance has been working with companies to support removing deforestation from supply chains for nearly five years yet despite significant investment more than a quarter of the deforestation is stilt driven by commodities found in products ranging from hamburgers to shampoo​."

According to the report, the countries with the highest forest loss in the last five years included four Amazon Basin countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. In June 2019 alone, deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon increased 88% compared to the same month the previous year. There were also troubling new hotspots of increasing forest loss in West Africa and the Congo Basin, the report noted. The Democratic Republic of Congo has more than doubled its deforestation in the last five years. In Asia, most forest is lost in Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia.

Since the NYDF was endorsed, the largest driver of deforestation has been forest clearance for agriculture, including the industrial scale production of commodities like beef, soy and palm oil.

The report said that to meet global food demand without losing more forests, a systematic change in how food is produced – including coordinated and integrated strategies to improve productivity – and consumed – including an elimination of embedded deforestation from traded commodities, a shift in diets away from meat and a reduction of food waste and losses – was needed.

Roe added: "Cattle production is the number one driver of deforestation in the Amazon basin, especially of primary forest loss, which is particularly troubling. Also bubbling up is small scale and illegal mining in a lot of the Amazon basin countries​.” 

Small signs of encouragement

There were bright spots in the report, however. Indonesia is the only bright spot on the deforestation map, the study showed. Political action combined with favorable weather over the last two years helped stop the widespread burning of peatlands and scale back forest destruction. While annual fires continue to threaten public health and the climate, President Joko Widodo’s permanent ban on the development of peatlands and primary forests is a good step forward.

Adams said the EU communication in July of this year to explore efforts to regulate supply chains was “a welcome effort to enforce legality and raise the floor for all supply chains​.”

The European Communication on “Stepping up EU Action against Deforestation and Forest Degradation” signals that the EU is considering a set of regulatory and non-regulatory measures that reduce the import of embedded deforestation into the Union and that strengthen international cooperation in support of forest conservation and restoration. The EU is also contemplating measures that re-direct finance to support more sustainable land-use practices.

But Justin Adams, Executive Director, Tropical Forest Alliance, World Economic Forum concluded that “only intensified partnerships and accelerated collective action can pull our forests back from the brink. Hopefully, this report will inspire and galvanise governments, business and civil society to redouble their efforts​.”

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