2020 was touted to be the “environmental super year”. This is because hundreds of companies had committed to stop deforestation, thanks to a variety of climate resolutions, namely from the New York Declaration of Forests, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention of Biological Diversity and the Sustainable Development Goals.
However, none of these plans came to fruition. Though the impact of COVID-19 on companies is enormous, the pandemic cannot be blamed for the lack of implementation. The problem is that committing to eradicating deforestation is easy, however, it takes a lot of commitment and effort to follow through on that promise. And that’s where companies failed.
Even before the events of 2020, companies were showing signs of inability to commit to their promises. The problem was that they had made unrealistic goals that were difficult to follow through, and about 40% of the most influential companies in the forest supply chain market while making tall claims to have sustainable sources, did not make any deforestation commitment at all.
So what are the next steps now?
The answer is to approach this mission with renewed seriousness, learn from the mistakes and missteps, and continue making progress towards the goal. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently released a report studying the deforestation status in 24 global hot spots around the world. The results were truly shocking, though not surprising. An area the size of California was lost to deforestation during the years 2004 and 2017 in the tropics and subtropics. Two-thirds of this forest loss occurred in Latin America primarily due to large-scale agriculture.
The growing population, the increase in plantations and the ongoing growth of commercial agriculture were the leading contributors to deforestation. The growth of infrastructure projects and the presence of extractive industries like mining and fuelwood harvesting were also contributing factor. Though it is unfair to solely blame businesses for the continued deforestation, they have a bigger responsibility and are more likely to have the means to combat this issue.
Figuring out where to start can be a dilemma for many companies. That is why, the Deforestation Fronts report identifies the areas where companies can prioritize to help in focusing supply chain efforts, and engagements in important landscapes. The Accountability Framework initiative, which is a collaborative, multi-stakeholder effort to scale up ethical supply chains for plant-based products. It is important to ensure that companies do not aim for ensuring “less harm” to the ecosystem but actively commit towards ending deforestation as a whole and not resort to transferring the problem from forests to grasslands.
It is impossible to halt deforestation on our own. But businesses can help in the collective effort towards ending deforestation by demanding stronger governmental policies to uphold environmental policies and their enforcement.
Though 2020 was not the year everyone expected it to be, it does not mean that we have to give up. Learning the lessons of the past, and working towards a more environmental-friendly future, businesses must take stock of what has worked for them and what failed, and what can be done in mitigating one of the biggest human-made problems that are ruining our planet. Armed with the data and the tools at our disposal, we can work towards safeguarding nature and prevent the loss of forests.
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