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Shifting Seas: New Challenges and Opportunities for Forests, People and the Climate

This report from the Environmental Paper Network (EPN) reveals the social and environmental developments in an industry that is expanding to produce new products – such as tissue disposables, food service and e-commerce packaging – and into new markets, as global consumption dangerously grows.

“In Europe and North America we consume far more than our fair share of the world’s paper. More than half of all paper is used for packaging and other throwaway products, and it is the biggest component of waste streams, so it should be easy for us to use less. We must reduce so that people in other regions can get access to the benefits of paper without causing further increases in global production,” said Mandy Haggith, Coordinator of EPN-International and lead author of the report’s chapter on paper consumption. “This report makes clear that the social and environmental impacts of current global production are unsustainable.”

From fibre sourcing to energy consumption to waste, the industry has a massive global footprint. While many companies are engaging in responsible supply chain efforts to address these impacts, not all paper is created equal.

The State of the Global Paper Industry is a civil society review of the social and environmental performance of the paper industry, including our ability to achieve international climate targets, informed by 145 organizations in 36 countries. The 2018 report, Shifting Seas, assesses the industry’s impacts on people and planet. Its assessment is structured according to the goals of the EPN’s Global Paper Vision, informing on trends in consumption, recycled content, social responsibility, responsible virgin fibre sourcing, greenhouse gas emissions, clean production and transparency.

Key findings include:

  • Paper consumption is at unsustainable levels and globally it is steadily increasing, particularly in Asia, while remaining at unequal levels of access in some parts of the world, particularly Africa.
  • Increasing production in response to new market demand is driving development of new virgin-fibre pulp mills, especially in Asia, Africa and South America. The EPN’s new live online map is a resource to help track the expansion and the proximity of mills to Intact Forest Landscapes.
  • Expansion is resulting in numerous social conflicts in many nations including Brazil, Indonesia, Canada, India, Chile and Mozambique.
  • The industry has substantial climate change impacts and critical opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through better land management and fibre choices need to be seized, urgently.
  • Corporate social responsibility commitments and purchasing policies have continued to proliferate and have helped to drive some specific social and environmental improvements ‘on-the-ground,’ but execution, transparency and progress on many voluntary commitments is lagging.
  • There are significant gaps in data availability globally, between regions, and across topics, and challenges in comparing data due to lack of standardisation.

“It is clear from our report that right now is a pivotal moment for China and other Asian countries to be innovative and careful to balance rising consumption and production of paper with environmental responsibility,” said Zhang Huiying, Coordinator of EPN-China.

“This report shows that all stakeholders must increase efforts and provide real leadership in order to reduce paper’s impacts on communities, forests, biodiversity and the climate,” said Joshua Martin, Director of EPN-North America. “Many in the paper industry aggressively promote the idea that all paper is produced and consumed sustainably, but increasingly consumers and industry leaders know that the landscape is much more complex. This is an industry that is growing, migrating and changing, so that means all hands-on deck to collectively solve these challenges and realise our vision for a paper industry that contributes to a healthy, just and sustainable future.”

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