Nature and Biodiversity

Collective action to enable sustainable growth will be critical to end tropical deforestation

Image: Chennawit Yulue/Pexels.

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This article was updated on 20 May 2021.

  • The dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss cannot be solved without stopping tropical deforestation.
  • Sustainable land use practices must replace commodity based industries to protect rainforests from further destruction and create new opportunities for investment.
  • FACT (Forest, Agriculture, and Commodity Trade) Dialogues, an initiative launched be the UK government as a part of their COP26 Presidency, will be supported by the Tropical Forest Alliance of the WEF. It aims to bring stakeholders together to transition to more sustainable economies.

The intensive production of commodities – such as palm oil, beef, soy, and paper and pulp – still accounts for the majority of tropical deforestation, despite the best efforts and willingness of many highly capable, motivated people, businesses, governments, producers, consumers and NGOs around the world.

It is now universally accepted that there is no solution to the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss without ending tropical deforestation. But this is a highly complex problem and solutions are not simple nor easy. These commodities underpin the global food production system and the global consumer economy. They also sustain the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers and local communities, and are key industries supporting the economies of many producer countries.

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What can be done to stop deforestation?

The route out of this conundrum is to transition towards more sustainable land use practices, but in a way that opens up new opportunities for investment, jobs and livelihoods in forests, land use and agriculture, and which can help grow sustainable economies.

In this context, it is plain to see that voluntary corporate action by individual companies – as we have seen in the last decade – is simply not going to be enough to address this challenge or kick-start this transition.

What we have learned through our work at the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) is that to achieve any progress in this space requires many people—communities, businesses, investors, governments and activists—often with divergent goals, to come together, collaborate and agree to act. Solving complex problems like deforestation can only be achieved through what we call ‘collective action’.


What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

This starts with a willingness to listen to others, to learn from what others have done, and to build on and scale the successes they’ve had.

FACT Dialogues: a new problem-solving approach

The UK government has launched the FACT Dialogues as a key initiative of their COP26 Presidency and will be supported by the Tropical Forest Alliance of the World Economic Forum. The FACT Dialogue aims to help accelerate the end of commodity-driven deforestation and represents a unique, potentially game-changing opportunity.

It will take a bold and innovative approach, one which has been carefully designed by the COP26 Presidency to maximize the chance for highly successful outcomes.

For the first time, we will be able to ensure that all relevant parties have a voice and a space to contribute to the decision-making process. TFA will facilitate a series of multi-stakeholder consultations, convening a process in which all parties can engage and be heard, have meaningful involvement, and contribute different perspectives, solutions and best practices.

A global multi-stakeholder taskforce will ensure that these voices, insights and recommendations feed directly into government-to-government dialogues.

With just 6 months until COP26, we have an opportunity to do something transformational: this can be a groundbreaking moment. An opportunity to create significant progress, align us all to long-term sustainable trade and finance principles, and set in motion action that can continue to deliver long after Glasgow 2021.


Moving away from commodity-drive deforestation

To succeed we must normalize new, more sustainable dynamics so that it becomes the new ‘business-as-usual’, incentivizing the countries (and farmers) who produce commodities - while simultaneously conserving/restoring forests and disincentivizing the production that is leading to deforestation. We can ensure that economies which have a sustainable relationship with forests are the ones that thrive and grow.

There is already significant momentum building and change is happening faster than expected. There are many positive examples, at both the local and jurisdictional level, of sustainable land-use practices being adopted at scale by progressive producers and their customers. They are working together to create lasting change, to slow down and reverse deforestation, while protecting jobs, livelihoods, communities and food security in a just and fair way.

Furthermore, behaviours are changing quickly, on both the supply and demand sides. Progressive consumer goods companies are responding to changing consumer demand for verified sustainably-sourced soy, palm oil, beef and paper. And enlightened producers and suppliers are moving quickly to meet this demand.

We need to turn ‘collective ambition’ into ‘collective action’ – to seize this moment to reset the balance, and accelerate the transition to a more sustainable, just, forest-positive future.

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