Business commitments plateau as deforestation and land conversion continue at an alarming rate

By World Wide Fund for Nature

Business commitments plateau as deforestation and land conversion continue at an alarming rate

A new analysis released shows that the actions businesses are taking are not enough to halt the destruction of the world’s most valuable ecosystems – forests, savannahs, and grasslands among others – which continue to vanish at a rapid pace, unless urgent action is taken to close the implementation gap.

The report, Deforestation, and conversion-free supply chains: A guide for action published by WWF and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) comes a decade after members of the Consumer Goods Forum (GCF) first committed to eliminating deforestation from their supply chains, and examines the barriers to and requirements for progress as well as exploring the role that businesses can play in halting deforestation and land conversion.

While increasing public awareness has put pressure on businesses to act – and many have made voluntary commitments – the report finds that this progress is not making the desired impact: only 41-46% of companies are reporting on their commitments, and the average progress in achieving these commitments is just 55%, highlighting the implementation gap. Furthermore, processors and traders – the parts of the supply chain that have the power to affect the greatest change – have made the fewest commitments to date.

Between 2001 and 2015, agricultural commodities contributed to 39% of global tree-cover loss – including both deforestation and temporary losses, and every year on average 10 million hectares of forest loss are being destroyed, driven primarily by agriculture. This latest report spotlights four key commodities including soy, palm oil, beef, and wood fiber plantations, which were the focus of GCF’s zero net deforestation pledge in 2010.

The connection between these commodities and the leading deforestation and conversion fronts is striking. The analysis shows that cattle production has displaced the most forest by far, accounting for 37% of agriculture-driven deforestation between 2001 and 2015. It is also the leading force – with soy – behind the conversion of grasslands and savannahs, such as in Latin America’s Chaco and Cerrado regions. Interestingly then, it is the commodity that has seen the least number of businesses making deforestation and conversion-free commitments. WWF is particularly keen to highlight this ahead of the Pre-Summit of the UN Food Systems Summit taking place at the end of July, which is calling for action on all levels of the food system to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

“Large companies must work together – and in coordination with public and financial stakeholders – to persuade all the members of the commodity supply chain to make bolder collective commitments and implement concrete actions. We need to develop viable economic models for smallholders and hold third parties accountable. And, perhaps most importantly, we need to enforce stricter mechanisms for tracing each commodity to its source and ensure we reach a critical scale for impact,” says BCG Managing Director and Senior Partner Nicolas Kachaner. 

While critical, voluntary commitments by businesses remain insufficient to drive the change required. The report calls for greater leadership, transparency, traceability, and verification by businesses, buyers as well as producers, alongside strong government legislation to ensure deforestation and conversion-free supply chains in addition to commitments by financial institutions to drive systemic change.

“Critical natural ecosystems are vanishing, yet we cannot survive as a planet without them. Companies have a critical role to play in halting and reversing the loss of nature, and it begins with making deforestation and conversion-free commitments a reality. Our new analysis shows that existing commitment schemes face hurdles of traceability and scale – and impacts are not following the pace that’s urgently needed. This must change quickly if businesses are indeed committed to contributing to a nature-positive world,” says Fran Raymond Price, Forest Practice Lead at WWF International.