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Report: Forest Protection Pledges Have Surged, But Progress Has Been Mixed

Disclosure rate and average progress toward forest commitments as reported by 415 companies. Click here to view enlarged/original version. | Image credit: Forest Declaration, graph by Climate Focus based on data from, 2016

Today, research groups released what they are calling the most comprehensive and detailed look at private sector progress on forest commitments. The report analyzes 600 companies engaged in the production of the “big four” globally traded commodities responsible for 40 percent of deforestation — palm oil, wood, cattle and soy. While forest protection commitments have surged, the report details mixed progress on their implementation.

Under the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF), launched in September 2014, some 190 governments, companies, indigenous peoples’ organisations, green groups and think tanks are aiming to help the private sector eliminate deforestation from the production of agricultural commodities by 2020.

The first report to track such corporate sustainability promises, entitled “Eliminating Deforestation from the Production of Agricultural Commodities: Goal 2 Assessment Report,” says that 108 companies had announced 212 new commitments since December 2015, boosting the total to 415 businesses. Most of the companies with forest commitments are manufacturers and retailers, of which nearly 90 percent are headquartered in Europe, North America or Australia - where they are more likely to feel the heat from green consumers. Producers, processors and traders of commodities, as well companies based in developing countries, have been slower to act, the report notes, with the exceptions of palm oil producers in Southeast Asia and meat processing companies headquartered in Brazil.

“Tomorrow, as the Paris Agreement comes into force, nearly 200 governments shift focus from climate commitments to action,” said Charlotte Streck, the co-founder and director of Climate Focus, a climate change think tank that led development of the report. “We need this same shift in corporate sustainability commitments. But action has to be fast as natural forests are still disappearing at an alarming rate, posing the risk that supply chains may only become ‘deforestation-free’ once forests are gone.”

“What we now need, if forests and the climate are to be saved, is action on commodities with the biggest forest impacts, and an increase in partnerships between companies and governments, and among retailers, traders and producers that pool resources to save forests,” Streck continued.

The report found that implementation has begun – almost all companies assessed in the report have put their commitments into motion. Between 84-87 percent have identified if and where their operations put forests at risk, and most companies (56-70 percent of producers, processors and trades and 64-87 percent of retailers and manufacturers) have established rules about how goods are produced and sourced that are in line with their commitments. Most companies use certification — where available and tested — as a strategy for sourcing sustainable goods.

But the authors caution that progress is too gradual, and commitments are “piecemeal.” Nearly all company commitments only address one commodity or a specific geography – just 10 percent of the 415 companies with commitments have set company-wide targets that cover all commodities relevant to their portfolios. Furthermore, commitments regarding soy and cattle lag behind those concerning palm oil and wood.

From using satellites to monitor forest loss to training cocoa farmers to grow sustainable crops, the report highlights innovative private sector strategies designed to keep forests in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Central Africa standing. It also sheds light on the barriers and setbacks facing companies as they attempt to translate their ambitious pledges into actual impact on deforestation. In doing so, the report provides evidence of how this sector is seeking to implement sustainability commitments.

Hannah Furlong is an Editorial Assistant for Sustainable Brands, based in Canada. She is researching the circular economy as a Master's student in Sustainability Management at the University of Waterloo and holds a Bachelor's in Environment and Business Co-op. Hannah… [Read more about Hannah Furlong]

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