The U.S. government could play a key role in breaking the link between commodity production and greenhouse gas emissions associated with tropical deforestation, argues a new report released by seven environmental groups.
The report, titled Breaking the Link between Commodities and Climate Change, looks at the opportunity to address deforestation by targeting four commodities that drive the bulk of tropical forest clearing today: beef, palm oil, pulp and paper, and soy. These commodities are directly consumed by Americans and American companies, presenting a leverage point for tackling a global issue that has far-reaching impacts on human rights, climate change, and biodiversity.
Already some companies are moving to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains by establishing sourcing policies that set criteria for commodity production. For example, The Consumer Goods Forum, a global industry network representing companies with $3 trillion in annual revenue, has set a zero net deforestation target for 2020. Companies like Disney, McDonald’s, Nestle, Office Depot, and Unilever have gone a step further in some cases by setting goals for specific commodities at earlier dates.
But the report says more needs to be done and the U.S. government can play a key role in accelerating and expanding the shift toward decoupling commodity production and deforestation. For example, state agencies can “create vibrant markets for forest-friendly commodities” through trade policy and procurement practices, while excluding illegally sourced commodities via laws like the Lacey Act. Through USAID and other programs, the U.S government could also support efforts to improve agricultural productivity on degraded, non-forest lands abroad to reduce pressure on forest areas. Finally the U.S. could facilitate greater supply chain transparency through investments in its satellite network to monitor land use change.
Deforestation for palm oil production in Borneo
The report claims these measures would enjoy wide support across the political spectrum and could therefore advance quickly through Congress.
“The time for action is now,” states the report. “This large-scale climate solution enjoys strong business support and would do much to enhance global food security, promote sustainable economic growth, and improve governance in developing countries. Strong U.S. leadership is both essential and politically feasible.”
This report — published by the Environmental Investigation Agency, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Alliance, Solidaridad Network, and the Union of Concerned Scientists — comes ahead of a major meeting of the Tropical Forest Alliance, a public-private partnership that aims to reduce tropical deforestation associated with several key commodities, later this month.
Nigel Purvis, Michael Wolosin, and Cecilia Springer. Breaking the Link between Commodities and Climate Change. Prepared by Climate Advisers. June 2013
(03/29/2012) Making productive use of degraded lands and boosting productivity of small-holder farmers are key to meeting surging global consumption of agricultural products while preserving critical wildlife habitats, said an agricultural expert on the sidelines of the Skoll World Forum for Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford.
(01/02/2011) In efforts to save the world’s remaining rainforests great hopes have been pinned on “degraded lands” — deforested lands that are presently sitting idle in tropical countries. Optimists say shifting agriculture to such lands will help humanity produce enough food to meet growing demand without sacrificing forests and biodiversity and exacerbating social conflict. But to date, degraded lands remain an enigma, especially in Indonesia, where deforestation continues at a rapid pace. Degraded lands are often misclassified by various Indonesian ministries—land in a far-off province may be listed as “wasteland” by Jakarta, but in reality is blanked by verdant forest that sequesters carbon, houses wildlife, and affords communities with food, water, and other essentials. Granting logging and plantation concessions on these lands can result in conflict and environmental degradation.
(10/21/2010) The image of rainforests being torn down by giant bulldozers, felled by chainsaw-wielding loggers, and torched by large-scale developers has never been more poignant. Corporations have today replaced small-scale farmers as the prime drivers of deforestation, a shift that has critical implications for conservation. Until recently deforestation has been driven mostly by poverty—poor people in developing countries clearing forests or depleting other natural resources as they struggle to feed their families. Government policies in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s had a multiplier effect, subsidizing agricultural expansion through low-interest loans, infrastructure projects, and ambitious colonization schemes, especially in the Amazon and Indonesia. But over the past two decades, this has changed in many countries due to rural depopulation, a decline in state-sponsored development projects, the rise of globalized financial markets, and a worldwide commodity boom. Deforestation, overfishing, and other forms of environmental degradation are now primarily the result of corporations feeding demand from international consumers. While industrial actors exploit resources more efficiently and cause widespread environmental damage, they also are more sensitive to pressure from consumers and environmental groups. Thus in recent years, it has become easier—and more ethical—for green groups to go after corporations than after poor farmers.
(12/09/2009) Tropical deforestation claimed roughly 13 million hectares of forest per year during the first half of this decade, about the same rate of loss as the 1990s. But while the overall numbers have remained relatively constant, they mask a transition of great significance: a shift from poverty-driven to industry-driven deforestation and geographic consolidation of where deforestation occurs. These changes have important implications for efforts to protect the world’s remaining tropical forests in that environmental lobby groups now have identifiable targets that may be more responsive to pressure on environmental concerns than tens of millions of impoverished rural farmers. In other words, activists have more leverage than ever to impact corporate behavior as it relates to deforestation.