- A new report analyzes the forest commitments made so far by 41 of the companies that signed the New York Declaration on Forests at the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit.
- 94 percent of companies with palm oil in their supply chains and 79 percent active in timber, pulp and paper markets have committed to reducing deforestation tied to commodities production.
- Companies that signed the New York Declaration on Forests are 60 percent more likely than non-endorsing companies to have publicly committed to zero deforestation or zero net deforestation.
Palm oil is one of the most popular vegetable oils in the world, though much of it comes with well-documented, severe impacts for forests and the people who depend on them. But according to new research, palm oil producers are responding to calls for them to tackle the forest destruction in their supply chains.
Those findings were summarized in a report released during Climate Week NYC by Supply Change, an initiative spearheaded by Washington, D.C.-based Forest Trends, which also found that companies producing other key commodities, such as soy and cattle, have not made nearly as much progress.
The report analyzes the forest commitments made so far by 41 of the companies that signed the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) at the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit. The NYDF aims to halve deforestation driven by production of commodities like soy, beef, palm oil, and paper by 2020 and end it altogether by 2030.
Researchers with Supply Change found that, of the NYDF signatories they examined, 94 percent with palm oil in their supply chains have committed to reducing deforestation tied to their production of the commodity. 79 percent of the companies involved in timber and pulp markets have as well.
Meanwhile, just 41 percent of companies with soy and 50 percent with cattle in their supply chains have made similar commitments.
Production of those four commodities are responsible for 70 percent of all tropical deforestation, according to previous research by Forest Trends.
So why is progress on palm oil and timber being made more quickly than on soy or cattle?
The prevalence and market penetration of existing certification schemes has helped spur more rapid progress by palm oil, timber and pulp and paper companies, while the lack of pre-existing, agreed-upon standards and certification bodies has hindered progress by producers of the other commodities, the authors write.
For instance, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil certifies 20 percent of global palm production, the authors note. The timber sector also has well-established certification programs, including the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification and the Forest Stewardship Council, which, together, certify 20 percent of managed forests, the report says.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Soy is much less established, certifying a mere 0.5 percent of the commodity, according to the report, and there isn’t yet a global certification scheme for all cattle products.
“It’s clear that the availability of an established standard is significant for companies to act on a commodity commitment,” Supply Change’s Ben McCarthy, one of the report’s authors, said in a statement.
Unsurprisingly, however, Supply Change found that companies that signed the NYDF are 60 percent more likely than non-endorsing companies to have publicly committed to zero deforestation or zero net deforestation (meaning that forest loss may still occur, but it will be offset by reforestation or restoration).
NYDF-endorsing companies are also more likely to have strong commitments on illegal logging and human rights, per the report.
Given the lack of a verification process for tracking zero deforestation and zero net deforestation commitments, however, companies frequently adopt internal milestones. When presenting the report in New York City during Climate Week, Stephen Donofrio, an advisor to the Supply Change project, said that data transparency and accountability are therefore fundamental issues if we are to continue monitoring progress in stopping deforestation and its contributions to global warming.
“How do you know how companies are situated on this issue? This is why disclosure is so important,” Donofrio said.
Stopping deforestation has a critical role to play in broader efforts to combat climate change, as well, and Forest Trends argues that leadership in the private sector is necessary to help build momentum for a strong climate accord to be negotiated in Paris this December.
“The New York Declaration on Forests is a great example of how innovative, market-based approaches can combine the resources of the public and private sectors to fight forest loss,” Forest Trends President and CEO Michael Jenkins said in a statement.
“This Supply Change report highlights areas where the Declaration’s endorsers can improve their reporting – in the process of demonstrating to consumers that they ‘walk the walk’ on sustainability. But as we approach the most important climate negotiations in history, these findings also reinforce that the private sector has a crucial role to play in the battle against climate change.”