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Net-zero commitments must include more anti-deforestation policies, UN tells private sector

  • Many companies with net-zero commitments have made little, tangible progress against tropical deforestation, according to a recent report from a U.N. climate change task force.
  • Approximately a third of carbon emissions released each year are absorbed by forests, making tackling deforestation a key part of the fight to keep global temperatures below 1.5°C (2.7°F).
  • Many companies, even ones that have implemented other effective net-zero commitments, have fallen short on deforestation, meaning their carbon footprint may end up being larger than they hope.

A growing number of companies are committing to net-zero emission goals in an effort to lower their carbon footprint and prevent climate change. But they’ll likely fall short if their business practices don’t do a better job of factoring in anti-deforestation measures, a new report says.

Many companies with net-zero commitments have made little, tangible progress against tropical deforestation, according to a recent report from the U.N. Climate Change High-Level Climate Champions, a taskforce responsible for developing stronger climate policy for the private sector.

The report said companies need to include more anti-deforestation measures in their net-zero commitments or risk missing the long-term goal of limiting global temperatures to  1.5°C (2.7°F). Scientists say the global temperature needs to stay below this figure to avoid widespread climate catastrophe.

Palm oil plantations in Kalimantan, Indonesia. (Photo courtesy of CIFOR/Flickr)

“All companies in the sector need to be committed to net-zero and tackling supply chain deforestation is a burning priority,” Nigel Topping, one of the U.N. Climate Change High-Level Climate Champions, said in the report. “Now is the time to act to protect and restore our life-support systems, working alongside Indigenous peoples and local communities, to achieve our net-zero and nature-positive future.”

Approximately a third of carbon emissions released each year are absorbed by forests, the report said. Their protection and restoration could result in as much as 18% emission cuts by 2030. Nevertheless, deforestation rates increased by 12% between 2019 and 2022, suggesting that companies are only taking some of the action required of them. Others aren’t making deforestation commitments at all.

“There is still a significant number of companies that haven’t set a single deforestation policy,” said Emma Thomson, the Forest 500 lead at Global Canopy, one of the co-authors of the report. “And even though we’re seeing many other companies set net-zero targets, they just aren’t being backed up by effective and ambitious deforestation commitments.”

The report, published in partnership with the Accountability Framework initiative, the Science-Based Targets initiative and WWF, relied on Global Canopy’s Forest 500 list of the 350 of the most influential forest, land and agriculture companies with connections to deforestation. The list also includes 150 financial institutions but they weren’t included in this report.

Some of the companies on the list include major food producers like Cargill, Bunge and Marfrig, as well as Nestlé and PepsiCo. Around 31% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the agri-food industry, according to FAO.

Deforestation in Manaus, Brazil. (Photo courtesy of CIAT/NeilPalmer/Flickr)

Beef, leather, soy, palm oil, timber and pulp producers are especially egregious drivers of deforestation, contributing to around 60% of forest cover loss, the report said.

Forest 500 looked at how many of these companies had made net-zero commitments, how many of those included deforestation prevention and how effective they were at achieving their goals. It also looked at how transparently the companies were reporting their activities.

Of the 350 companies, 148 have made some version of a commitment to net-zero emissions. Only nine of these companies — or 6% — have made “strong” progress on deforestation. For example, Brazilian soy producer Amaggi, which works in the Amazon and Cerrado, has a high score because 99% of its soy has been free from deforestation and land conversion since 2017.

Companies like BF Logistics, China State Construction Engineering and Bricapar have some of the worst scores because they haven’t announced net-zero policies, let alone strategies for addressing deforestation in their supply chains.

H&M, meanwhile, has signed onto some U.N. initiatives and acknowledged the value of forests but hasn’t implemented an overarching commitment to eliminate deforestation.

The report urges all of these companies to craft policies based on the new pledges of Race to Zero, a global campaign to get the private sector to commit to impactful net-zero policies. This includes implementing strategies for stopping deforestation and making investments that are “consistent with climate resilient development.”

“There is no solution to climate change without a solution to tropical deforestation,” Thomson said. “…It’s a really effective way of reducing carbon emissions, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and also achieving net-zero commitments.”

Banner image: An open clearing in the forests of Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios, Peru. (Photo courtesy of CIFOR/Flickr)

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