Monday , June 17 2024

Tracing The Roots Of Inaction On Deforestation

This article was published here.

Tackling the ongoing scourge of deforestation has long proved too difficult a task for politicians to confront. At COP26, the much-touted climate conference held in Glasgow in November 2021, world leaders gathered to discuss with great sincerity the issue of deforestation and how to tackle it. They agreed on an ambitious but long overdue series of measures that would culminate in halting and beginning to reverse deforestation by 2030.

It only took a few months for the plan to fall behind schedule. In fact, by the time its first deadline rolled around a few weeks after COP26, it was clear that no action had been taken. In time-honoured tradition, most of those same leaders gathered the following year in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, for COP27, the next global climate conference. They agreed on the same plan for addressing deforestation all over again – but still lacked any practical detail on how to ensure it materialises.

Politicians cannot be relied upon to make meaningful steps to slow the slashing of rainforests. We turn to the free market. After all, the market ought to be better at solving problems like this than the central government, and manufacturers of everyday commodities from food to toiletries are largely causing the problem in the first place. Are companies taking it upon themselves to extricate unsustainable practices from their supply chains, to back up all the green virtue-signalling claims they make to their customers? In a word, no.

New research from a non-profit research organisation called Global Canopy finds that 40% of the companies and institutions most likely to contribute to deforestation have yet to set a single internal or external policy on how to address it. Perhaps even more damningly, even among those companies which have put in place commitments of various kinds to roll deforestation in their supply chains, around one in three have taken no action to achieve them. No doubt, those companies boast publicly about all the impressive environmental commitments they have made – much like our political leaders after their ‘global climate conferences’ – but when push comes to shove, nothing is done, and they continue endorsing the chopping down of precious rainforests in their supply chains.

There are few persuasive excuses for this level of inaction. Deforestation in supply chains is not an insurmountable problem. We know this because a small handful of industries have genuinely made significant steps forward. The beef industry, for example, has teamed up with the UN to launch what it calls the Good Growth Partnership, imposing new ‘national standards’ on beef production in South America and safeguarding chunks of particularly valuable land “so that planned agricultural expansion can avoid important conservation areas.”

Similarly, palm oil, perhaps the product most often vilified for connections to deforestation, has seen huge progress in recent years. Deforestation from the world’s most widely used vegetable oil has fallen to a four-year low. Palm oil now caters to more than a third of global vegetable oil demand but remarkably causes just 4% of deforestation. 90% of the palm oil imported into Europe is certified as ‘sustainable’ these days, which means its production does not affect primary forests, natural habitats, or local communities and cultures.

It is possible and practical for businesses to achieve meaningful reductions in their contributions to deforestation. Given the perpetual failure of politicians to ensure the protection of our natural world – and their tendency to either fail to act or overregulate, both of which do more harm than good – private industry leaders should step up to the plate, especially in key industries like soy, paper, and timber. If nothing else, it would facilitate a heart-warming marketing campaign about how they’re saving the orangutans. But more importantly, the sooner they act to impose their own due diligence on their supply chains and ensure they’re not fuelling deforestation, the more likely we are to pass down a planet full of rich, thriving rainforests to our children and grandchildren.

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