In May, the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) hosted its annual meeting in Bogotá, Colombia’s high-altitude capital, surrounded by the country’s extensive forests.

The meeting was invigorating. It was upbeat. Yet it also zeroed in on the considerable challenges we still face and what needs to be done to overcome them, and many attendees left with a real sense of urgency and a determination to stop ecocide. Here is a quick update on our discussions and on three commitments made by the community.

Coming together

This year’s attendees included 300 leaders from the worlds of business, government and civil society. As well as being acutely aware of the importance of forests in solving our global climate and biodiversity crises, they have a huge weight of collective influence.

We heard directly from Colombia’s president, Iván Duque Márquez, and his cabinet on the decisive action they have already taken - including a new $20 million fund to promote low-carbon investment and a promise to eliminate deforestation caused by meat and dairy production. Beyond putting the brakes on deforestation, the government intends to reverse the process by restoring hundreds of thousands of acres of degraded land and planting 180 million new trees.

Tropical deforestation is a bigger contributor to climate change than the EU or India
Image: World Resources Institute

A central theme of the event was the promise of jurisdictional landscape-based approaches: public-private partnerships that seek to align governments, businesses, NGOs and other stakeholders around the shared goals of conservation, supply chain sustainability and green economic development. We heard from stakeholders from several regions that are making real progress, including the Siak district in Indonesia and the department of Caquetá in Colombia, as well as emerging landscape approaches in countries like Ghana.

These jurisdictional approaches are not new. But it is increasingly clear they are vital to complement the individual supply chain actions that have traditionally characterized the efforts of the TFA community. We are convinced that the most effective approach the TFA can take now is to catalyze collective action in the regions in which the largest proportion of the world’s commodities are produced.

One clear pacesetter is Mato Grosso in Brazil and its Produce, Conserve, Include (PCI) approach, which was launched in 2015. PCI is helping the region’s vast but often impoverished agricultural economy to co-exist with the 60% of remaining forest cover. Several NGOs including the Environmental Defense Fund, IDH the Sustainable Trade Initiative and the Nature Conservancy helped PCI launch a ‘Pitch Book’, a menu of ready-made, plug-and-play solutions that businesses can use to actively engage in the landscapes from which they are sourcing.

And now the bad news

Of course, it wasn’t all good news. The latest Global Forest Watch figures were not good. Yes, the 2018 rate of deforestation had fallen from the 2016 and 2017 peaks. But still, 12 million hectares of tree cover were lost, and the underlying three-year trend is still heading upwards, with some deeply worrying incursions into protected forest areas and indigenous lands. However, one reason to be optimistic can be found in Indonesia, where deforestation has all but stopped – demonstrating the success of the country’s national and regional initiatives, and providing inspiration to the wider forest community.

China’s attitude to commodity supply chains and deforestation was another strong theme, and we were delighted to announce that the TFA will formally launch a programme of activity in Beijing to support the Chinese government ahead of the UN Biodiversity Conference in Kunming in 2020. Against this backdrop, we believe there is a clear rationale and opportunity for the Chinese state to engage in the forest debate and to wield its considerable influence.

Accelerating into 2020 and beyond

We closed the meeting with a few clear commitments on our future direction of travel:

1. The clear consensus from Bogotá was for systemic change and, alongside the jurisdictional approaches, several such solutions were suggested. For example, there were calls for a global accord on commodity sourcing. Brokering such an agreement falls outside the TFA’s traditional remit, but we will definitely explore what such an accord may look like and how it could be pursued.

2. There was strong endorsement for the TFA continuing to catalyze collective action in advancing jurisdictional leadership in target landscapes. This is the kind of support that producers of consumer goods and other supply-chain actors are looking to the TFA to advance, in support of and to complement (not substitute) supply-chain actions.

3. We all need to accelerate towards 2020, making all the progress we can, while also framing a compelling post-2020 agenda. The TFA community promises to be an active and sometimes uncomfortable voice in this process. For example, we will consult across our membership to broker a consensus. We will also continue to showcase and highlight the effectiveness of jurisdictional leadership – aiming for the subject to be high on the agenda at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York this September.

Finally, we confirmed in Bogotá that the next TFA meeting will take place in Indonesia – a country that has done more than any in the last few years to reduce deforestation, although significant challenges do remain.

Before that, however, a lot needs to happen in the intervening 12 months. Everyone in the forest community must be held to account, and we are only going to accelerate progress by working better together. So let’s be humble about what we have achieved, let’s be frank about the challenges, and let’s agree on a compelling vision for the future of our planet’s forests.