Blog 19.02.19

Deforestation: New Guidelines to Strengthen Company Commitments

Alongside Ariana Grande and Brexit, you might’ve noticed forests making headlines in early 2019.

France adopted its National Strategy to Combat Imported Deforestation, Germany released an Action Plan for sustainable, deforestation-free cocoa, and the European Commission ruled bio-fuel from palm oil should be phased out to protect forests from expanding cultivation.

At the same time, more companies have been making commitments to eliminate deforestation in agricultural supply chains. In 2017, 471 companies had committed to reduce deforestation in cattle, palm oil, soy, or timber and pulp supply chains – commodities playing a major role in large-scale tropical deforestation.

Analysis by Climate Focus based on data from (see source).

That’s good news. But what do company commitments really mean for forests?

It’s difficult to say because there are different definitions (sometimes no definition) of what forest types are protected, minimal guidance on the operational scope of policies, and lack of time-bound compliance goals.

Palm oil policies are most common. Yet among companies with the greatest exposure to deforestation, only 40% have a commitment that meets these requirements. For soy, it’s around 5%.

Without clear commitments and an understanding of how to implement them, companies can’t talk compellingly about their work. And in our world of increasing transparency, that’s a big reputational risk.

Bring on AFi

But help is available. The Accountability Framework Initiative (AFi) offers a way forward. Put together by a steering group of 15 non-profit heavyweights, AFi offers a set of standard definitions, expectations on what commitments should contain, and guidance on how to implement them. Now in the final stages of public consultation, a first draft is available online.

Companies will soon have a single source of guidance for the agricultural supply chains most responsible for deforestation (palm oil, soy, cattle, timber and pulp, cocoa, coffee and rubber). AFi, for example, provides guidance on whether companies should continue to work with suppliers in non-compliance of their policy. (Answer: yes, unless the supplier has the capacity to comply but shows no willingness to change.) It also defines how downstream companies should establish traceability to verify their policies.

Answers to tricky questions such as these were sorely needed. Of course, creating and implementing forest-protection commitments in different environmental, political and social contexts will remain a challenge. But companies following best practice suggestions can now have confidence sharing their work. And – assuming companies refresh existing commitments – we’re on track for a more joined-up approach to eliminating deforestation. A win-win for corporate reputations and sustainability!

Cover image: Sam Beebe, Cleared Forest in Bolivia (source).

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