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U.S. govt has role to play in stopping commodity-driven deforestation

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

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