Why the new $1B LEAF investment in tropical forests matters for business and the planet

After decades of challenges from the private sector to protect tropical forests, the “lungs of our planet,” we’ve reached a significant milestone. The newly launched LEAF Coalition puts tropical forests at the heart of global climate action. What is expected to become one of the largest ever public-private efforts to protect tropical forests will mobilize at least $1 billion in financing to countries committed to protecting their tropical forests.

Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business

We’re in a global race to reach net zero emissions by midcentury, a goal that cannot be reached without bold leadership from the private sector and commitment to leverage its scale, investment capacity and political power to build a more sustainable, resilient and equitable future. 

The “Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance” (LEAF) coalition — including Airbnb, Amazon, Bayer, Boston Consulting Group, GlaxoSmithKline, McKinsey & Company, Nestlé, Salesforce and Unilever — are working alongside countries including the U.S., Norway and the United Kingdom to drive progress at the speed and scale that the climate crisis demands by investing to protect tropical forests.

The results-based financing model used in LEAF builds on over two decades of work by Environmental Defense Fund in collaboration with Indigenous communities, forest peoples, Brazilian and U.S. NGOs, and other partners, to protect the Amazon and tropical forests globally.

Here are three reasons why LEAF could be transformative, and set a new bar for corporate leadership.

This is the bold leadership from companies that we’ve been waiting for

Companies today are confounding what is needed to get the planet to net zero with what they need to do as a company. Individual corporate leadership is key, but that alone won’t get us on the path required over the next 10 years to achieve climate stability by midcentury.

The LEAF announcement matches the level of ambition needed to put the world on a path towards a cleaner and more equitable future, and it pressures other companies to follow suit. The initiative has immense potential to kickstart widespread, multinational efforts to reduce tropical deforestation at unprecedented scale and with high environmental integrity – while improving livelihoods for Indigenous Peoples and local communities and advancing sustainable development in the tropics. 

A new bar for corporate leadership is emerging based on companies’ willingness to engage and invest both within as well as outside of their immediate value chain and operations. Conversations on net zero must happen in board rooms, in corporate lobbying, on farms and in forests — that’s how transformational progress will be made.  

This is the level of ambition we’ve been waiting for

The $1 billion commitment by LEAF represents the largest-ever investment in tropical forests from the private sector. To date, jurisdictional (national and state-level) forest protection programs — known as REDD+ programs — have been supported almost exclusively by public funds.

Acting with urgency to protect the world’s current carbon stocks, such as tropical forests, is key for achieving net zero globally. Protecting tropical forests offers one of the biggest opportunities for climate action in the coming decade. But the most pressing environmental challenge of our lifetimes cannot be conquered alone.

Collaboration across departments, industries and global supply chains is crucial to delivering climate benefits at a transformative scale. The companies behind today’s LEAF Coalition are stepping up in an unprecedented way to protect tropical forests. Now is the time for other companies to follow suit, and to scale this effort even further.

This is the approach we’ve been waiting for

LEAF uses the jurisdictional approach to forest protection, and is focused on achieving high integrity carbon credits and maximizing social alongside environmental benefits. It uses the ART-TREES Standard and will help ramp up the market for high-integrity forest protection. Emergent, a U.S. nonprofit organization which EDF helped create, will provide a platform to facilitate transactions and serve as the administrative coordinator of LEAF.

This effort holds vast potential for speeding up much needed investments to protect land, forests, livelihoods and people — and to reduce global emissions.

Ending tropical deforestation within the next decade is critical to preventing the worst effects of climate change for all of us. LEAF is the kind of vision, leadership and action that we need right now.