Now trending in global business: collective action on deforestation

edf-business-of-food-blog-graphic_shelton-grp_12-7-16With U.S. policy engagement on climate action in limbo, the rest of the world is marching forward. As major CEOs and political leaders gathered at the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, clear support was shown for creative investment in clean energy, sustainable development and other climate change mitigation practices.

While many ideas were discussed, however, one topic emerged as both a driver of climate impact and an opportunity area for huge climate benefits: deforestation.

Two major initiatives around deforestation were launched at the WEF:

A fund to catalyze private investment in deforestation-free agriculture was announced by the Norwegian government, the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), UN Environment, the Global Environmental Facility, and many other supporters. Their goal? To help fund sustainable intensification of agriculture in jurisdictions which are effectively working toward reducing deforestation. The fund will be operational by middle of 2017 and aims to protect over 5 million hectares of forest and peatlands through its projects by 2020. 

Norway pledged up to $100 million, with a capitalization goal of $400 million from other donors and private sector partners. The model aims to engage even more private sector financing, for a total investment of $1.6 billion by 2020. The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 and major food giants like Carrefour, Marks & Spencer, Mars, Nestle and others are expressing support. Unilever is the first corporate leader to commit funding, with a pledge of $25 million over the next 5 years.

A plan to use big data to monitor and trace the raw materials in major corporations’ supply chains. Led by the World Resources Institute, the initiative has major support from food companies such as Bunge, Cargill, Walmart, and others, with a total combined value of $2.9 trillion.

The goal is to build a decision-support system to help companies track progress and real-time challenges associated with their deforestation commitments. The tool will enable corporations to make real-time decisions about geographies to prioritize in their deforestation reduction work, and get alerts when illegal activities are happening in those regions. While the tool is still in very early stages, the future could be bright.

Deforestation-free sourcing? There’s an app for that!

Deforestation_in_Panama

Two initiatives… powerful trends

So: what do these two initiatives—one helping to ensure that farming already-cleared land becomes more productive, and one helping companies shed light on the complex, murky labyrinth of their global supply chains—tell us about emerging trends in global climate leadership?

  1. Forests matter: Stakeholders understand the importance of forests for climate and supply chain stability. The impressive list of participants and lofty goals show that forests have become part of the main stage for how to address climate change globally. Deforestation contributes about 15% of greenhouse gas emissions annually, but can also be a major carbon sink if managed appropriately. Corporations understand that forests are vital for reducing reputational risk in product lines, ensuring stable weather patterns that can produce viable crops into the future, and increasing the resiliency of major geographic regions against drought and flooding. These new commitments indicate that action on forests as part of the climate dialogue are here to stay.
  1. Collective action is the right tool: Companies see the value in working collectively on effective solutions for deforestation reduction. Corporations know that there is significant risk in not engaging effectively on forests, both for the climate and for their supply chains. But the more challenging question to date has been: how? Over 350 companies have made public commitments to reduce deforestation related to major agricultural commodities in their supply chains. However, only one-third of these companies report on how they will reach these goals. These two new initiatives show the value of collective action between companies, non-profits,
    Katie Anderson, Project Manager, EDF+Business

    Katie Anderson, Project Manager, EDF+Business

    and governments to engage effectively in the multi-faceted challenge of deforestation-free sourcing. The days of working in silos, simply along supply chain boundaries, are no longer the most effective strategies. Working together provides new, creative solutions that can have an impact across entire regions rather than solely withinthe boundaries of sourcing relationships.

  1. There is still much to be done. While these initiatives are important signals of major trends within the deforestation space, they are still only in their infancy. Time will tell if the stakeholders engaged will be able to actualize the ambitious goals and creative thinking embedded in these ideas.

But, I’m optimistic. What emerged out of Davos tells me that the collective work of these major corporations can get us to where we need to go: productive, economically viable agricultural supply chains without destroying critical forest habitat upon which we all rely.

Will the U.S. join this trend toward collective action? The jury is still out on that one.

 

 

Things You May Have Missed During the Election #2: Deforestation and Walmart’s Gigaton Goal

edf-business-of-food-blog-graphic_shelton-grp_12-7-16Editor's Note—We're proud to make two, new introductions this month: Katie Anderson joins our Supply Chain team as a Project Manager with a focus on deforestation, and "The Business of Food" is born as a new category dedicated to exploring how the growing, processing, distributing, purchasing, consuming and disposing of food impacts our communities, our economy and our planet.

A month out from the election, we know that the global community faces significant uncertainty about what President-elect Trump and his administration will mean for climate outcomes. But with the 24-hour news cycle making it clear just how “transitional” this presidential transition period is, I think it’s worth shining a light on three recent events that I’m going label has hopeful, tragic and confounding:

  1. Hopeful: as part of its 2025 sustainability goals, Walmart announced a target reduction of 1 gigaton of greenhouse gases from its supply chain;
  2. Tragic: Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) announced a 29% increase in deforestation over the past year;
  3. Confounding: thinking he was going to have a climate change chat with Ivanka Trump, Al Gore made a trip to Manhattan—and ended up sitting down with the President-elect as well.

Let’s take the second part first and talk about deforestation.  Tropical deforestation contributes about 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, making forests an incredibly valuable part of the climate conversation.

Katie Anderson Project Manager, Supply Chain

Katie Anderson
Project Manager, Supply Chain

Alongside the climate benefits, forests also provide habitat for 70% of the world’s species, allow for improved water quality and support livelihoods for indigenous communities. So INPE’s announcement is absolutely tragic—especially when you consider that the amount of tropical forest lost in just one year equals the size of the state of Delaware.

So let’s move on to the hopeful part: Walmart’s goal. Just how much, exactly, is 1 gigaton of greenhouse gas? Most often it’s held up as being equal to the annual emissions of Germany (the world’s 4th largest economy). But just so you can appreciate the scale of both Walmart’s audacious ambitions and the problem we’re facing in our rainforests, Walmart’s goal is equivalent to only ¼ the annual GHG emissions caused by global deforestation!

Which means we’ve got a long way to go.

On to the confounding part: kudos to Ivanka Trump for inviting Al Gore for a talk on climate change. Sadly, it seems her dream position of being the “Climate Czar” will be ceremonial at best, because whatever was discussed at their Manhattan meeting was likely rendered moot by her father’s nomination of Scott Pruitt to be head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I’m guessing we’ll never really know what was said, but if Donald and Ivanka are even half the business geniuses they claim to be, they should have listened to Gore, particularly if he brought up deforestation. Here’s why:

Sustainable sourcing drives business value

Creating deforestation-free supply chains provides value to corporate bottom lines. Effective work on reducing deforestation in supply chains reduces reputational risk, builds trust and transparency with consumers, and drives investor value. Just two examples include:

In other words, customers and shareholders around the world are waking up, and business leaders are responding accordingly. Given that agriculture drives 70% of global deforestation, corporate actors who source our everyday products now realize they have big role to play in finding a solution.

Walmart is a perfect example: the need to expand the sourcing of commodities produced with zero net deforestation was cited as an essential component of meeting the 1 gigaton goal. And Walmart is by no means alone: to date, 366 companies have made public commitments to reduce deforestation in their supply chains—for the simple reason that they’re becoming aware of the major risks of not engaging in deforestation-free sourcing.

Unfortunately, public information on if/how companies are achieving these goals is only available for one-third of these commitments, but it appears that, while they’re a good start, commitments alone not enough.

Given all that, what’s a forward-thinking CEO to do regarding deforestation?

Landscape-scale approaches are critical to hitting targets

An emerging opportunity is in engaging landscapes, or jurisdictions, in reducing deforestation across the entire area. Rather than going farm-by-farm to achieve certifications—which is likely to lead to islands of “green” in a sea of deforestation—a jurisdictional approach allows whole regions to be categorized as reducing deforestation.

This is valuable for many reasons:

  1. the costs of monitoring compliance are shared among governments, corporate actors, and other stakeholders;
  2. it avoids leakage—a problem where one farm may reduce deforestation but will push deforestation into a different farm;
  3. it works across all commodities that drive deforestation rather than solely through certain supply chains;
  4. it protects the rights of landholders and indigenous communities.

Now, more than ever, business needs to lead

President-elect Trump often cites business as “the solution” to what’s ailing our country. In terms of climate change, this is one area where he and I agree.

In these uncertain (read: hopeful, tragic, confounding) times, it is incredibly important for corporations to publicly lead on how they work within their operations and their supply chains to reach climate balance. This means setting bigger goals, digging more deeply into the weeds to understand the impacts of their supply chains, and reaching beyond their walls to find the solutions that are most likely to bring the change we need.