Deforestation pledge risks being meaningless without enforcement, warn campaigners

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Deforestation pledge risks being meaningless without enforcement, warn campaigners

Related tags deforestation

The pledge by ag giants at COP26 to halt deforestation shows an encouraging breadth of signatories but lacks teeth, say deforestation groups.

They’re complaining it remains unclear how governments and financial institutions will be held to these new pledges, signalling the same accountability gap that has been the flaw of similar commitments in the past.

The commitment to halt deforestation by 2030 from the likes of Cargill, ADM, Olam International, JBS, Wilmar and Amaggi, comes in the footsteps of the New York Declaration on Forests from 2014. Here, governments committed to halve deforestation by 2020 and halt it by 2030. They failed to meet the 2020 target and are off track for the 2030 target so far. 

The deforestation pledge was supported by over 100 global leaders at the summit. CEOs from over 30 financial institutions with over US$8.7 trillion in assets also promised to eliminate the practice from their portfolios by 2025.

However, a number of banks also already committed and failed to meet previous zero net deforestation targets by 2020, under the Soft Commodities Compact, pointed out Global Witness, a human rights organisation.

“While the Glasgow Declaration has an impressive range of signatories from across forest-rich countries, large consumer markets and financial centres, it nevertheless risks being a reiteration of previous failed commitments if it lacks teeth,”​ said Jo Blackman, Head of Forests Policy and Advocacy at Global Witness. “If global leaders are serious about stopping forest destruction then they must back up today’s announcements with a commitment to bring in strong and binding national legislation that makes it illegal for companies and financial institutions to fuel deforestation.”

These laws must cover all forms of deforestation and all forest-risk agricultural commodities to be effective, Blackman stressed, and must include the financial sector, protect human rights and mandate effective sanctions for those who fail to comply with the rules. “Previous commitments by governments, companies and banks have all failed to stop deforestation and it remains to be seen if and how today’s new pledges will be different,” ​she said.

Ending deforestation and implementing natural climate solutions could provide a third of the solution to achieving the Paris climate target, help halt and reverse biodiversity loss, and support human rights and food security, believes Global Canopy, another non-profit working towards a deforestation-free economy.

It welcomed the move from financial institutions to up efforts to eliminate agricultural commodity-driven deforestation (including from cattle products, palm oil and soy) from portfolios by 2025, which it said pointed to clear evidence of the financial sector’s increasing awareness of the risks and associated actions needed to address deforestation related to production of these commodities and accelerate the transition to sustainable commodity production.

Global Canopy Executive Director Niki Mardas said the declarations show private finance stepping up – but will still require a major shift from companies and investors to deliver on these commitments. 

“History tells us there is much work to be done to ensure nations and companies follow through on their promises,”​ he said. “But it’s quite a start.”

Didier Bergeret, Sustainability Director at The Consumer Goods Forum, which launched the Forest Positive Coalition, a CEO-led initiative to remove deforestation from supply chains, called for a new era of large-scale collaboration between industry and local and national government, as well as NGOs, smallholders and producers.

“Previous commitments to ending deforestation have been made and not reached – for this time to be different will require a huge amount of collaboration and learning,”​ he said.

“The industry has matured, and through collaborative initiatives, is now better positioned to partner with governments to accelerate action. With pre-competitive collaboration already happening, we can create a shared vision of what forest positive is and what can enable a forest positive future.”

Bergeret stressed the need for transparent and harmonised reporting – essential, he said, to track progress, bring visibility to supply chain challenges and build trust with stakeholders and consumers.

“Recently, the Forest Positive Coalition published its first-ever Annual Report which sets a clear baseline for the industry on what can be delivered and where there is a need for improvement,”​ he revealed. “This report highlights the commitment from industry leaders to transparency and accountability.

"By reporting openly and publicly, together we can drive the full-sector transformation that is needed to end deforestation. Forest positive has to mean climate, nature and people positive too. This can only be achieved through multi-layered, effective collaboration that everyone is eager to practice.”

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