Nature and Biodiversity

2019 can be the year we begin to save the world’s forests. Here’s how

The Amazon rain forest (R), bordered by deforested land prepared for the planting of soybeans, is pictured in this aerial photo taken over Mato Grosso state in western Brazil, October 4, 2015. Brazil will produce a record 97.8 million tonnes of soybeans in 2015/16, a 3.2 percent rise compared to 2014/15, but much of this additional volume will be stored in the country, with little impact on export volumes, estimated on Monday the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries

More than 470 leading companies have pledged to build deforestation-free supply chains by 2020. Image: REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

Kavita Prakash-Mani
Global Conservation Director, WWF International
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Future of the Environment

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

The equivalent of 40 football fields-worth of tropical forests were lost every minute in 2017. Despite all the progress made by companies committed to reducing deforestation in their supply chains, commercial agricultural production of products such as palm oil, soy and beef remains the biggest cause of forest loss. And time is running out to fulfill the original 2020 commitment for deforestation-free supply chains made by more than 470 leading companies.

So here we are at the start of 2019, one year from 2020. What can be done?

We know there are no silver bullets. Market signals and supply chain approaches that have raised awareness of the issue at a global level are a vital pre-condition to deforestation-free commodity production; they create the incentives and the market pull across the value chain from producers to consumers. Certification schemes continue to play an important role, and for products like palm oil and timber these have already shifted 20% of production to more sustainable methods. Big advances have also been made in traceability and transparency, new financial mechanisms and other demand-side commitments (the Amsterdam Declaration). But we are still losing forests.


How can we accelerate progress to ensure deforestation-free supply chains? Jurisdictional approaches could be the answer. Watch experts from the Topical Forest Alliance discuss this issue in the video above.

While work on the ground has been ongoing, a growing number of NGOs, governments and companies are refocusing attention on the forest landscapes with a view to crowding in support for systemic, place-based approaches that enable production of commodities alongside the protection of forests and other habitats like grasslands, and restoration of lost forests and agricultural lands. A key value of these landscape approaches is to recognize that there are multiple drivers of forest loss, and that by bringing together all parts of the system - including governance, value chains and communities - we have a greater chance to reduce forest loss, improve livelihoods and enable sustainable production.

Each landscape is different and there is no set formula. We need to appreciate the diversity of geographies, cultures, crops, production systems and different levels of governance. We need to pursue layered incentives like climate finance, improved extension services and market access, and integrated strategies geared toward the entirety of the problem including natural resource governance, land use planning, improving production methods and shifting demand. Simply put, deforestation efforts hold much greater potential if various strategies, building on public-private collaboration, are combined.

Advancing big ideas to big actions

There is increasing momentum around defining and delivering landscape approaches – whether as jurisdictional approaches organized around local governance borders - as in Sabah, Malaysia - or whole eco-regions. And there is an increase in the breadth of stakeholder interest, including from local and national governments, companies and financial institutions, and most importantly, local constituencies and multi-stakeholder partnerships. We are starting to see promising results through a mix of localized, place-based approaches that share certain aspects – including willing government, traceable and influential supply chains, strong community and farmer engagement, accessible finance and alternate livelihood options.

Consider these promising examples. In Brazil’s Cerrado, to reduce the conversion of this mixed forest and savannah grassland, NGOs and partners came together to develop a Manifesto for change. Producers and traders are collaborating to generate solutions; buyers of the soya grown there are signing a statement of support and using their demand to incentivize the producers, traders and farmers; financial institutions are redirecting finance, and the governments of some jurisdictions are keen to find solutions. We’re not there yet, but partnership and dialogue are opening up new possibilities.

Backed by WWF, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and Environmental Defence Fud, Walmart is building a mechanism to link their suppliers in a range of partnership roles to jurisdictional initiatives, especially where their sourcing geographies show high risks of deforestation. This helped to trigger Unilever’s recent commitment to Sabah to improve production practices for palm oil and support wildlife corridor restoration as part of the Sabah Living Landscape approach to protect-produce-restore.

Inspired by the Unilever/M&S jurisdictional commitment, a brain trust of organizations, companies and governments have developed the Commodities-Jurisdictions Approach – a methodology that will come on line in 2019 to reward jurisdictions programs that are reducing deforestation at scale with improved market access via commodity sourcing agreements and potentially other partnerships.

Broadening the corporate playbook

Behind each and every one of these examples are partnerships between companies, governments and civil society, such as the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) which was set up to help the Consumer Goods Forum and other private sector players deliver on supply chain goals through public-private partnerships, and will be prioritizing landscape programmes going forward.

New landscape initiatives will require companies to get more deeply involved on the ground than is typical, whether it be through financial investments, committing to long-term procurement contracts, technical partnerships and data sharing, expertise and capacity in extension services and best management practices. The business cases for these types of investments are still emerging but it is clear these initiatives can both improve the operating environment (for example, governance, legality and deforestation risks) and the dependability of supply in these globally traded goods over the years and decades to come.

Landscape approaches are no magic bullet – in particular, they are usually long-game strategies against sometimes imminent threats. However, they force us to measure success at the scale of the deforestation problem, to get creative in aligning public and private sector goals, and to support local multi-stakeholder platforms and solutions that make sense in a particular geography. They are not a replacement for corporate action to ensure their own supply chains are sustainable, but they are a powerful complement.

Urgent action is required. 2019 can be the year we scale-up landscape and similar approaches to make accelerate progress to ensure deforestation-free supply chains - and save our forests.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Nature and BiodiversitySupply Chains and Transportation
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