The Economist cover this week is titled “Deathwatch for the Amazon”.
You may imagine what it says. For example: “In the tropics, which contain half of the world’s forest biomass, tree-cover loss has accelerated by two-thirds since 2015; if it were a country, the shrinkage would make the tropical rainforest the world’s third-biggest carbon-dioxide emitter, after China and America.”
Search Google for “deforestation” and the picture is very similar.
The recent CDP report also garnered many headlines, such as: “Most big companies fail to report role in deforestation, charity says“
Then there was the Greenpeace report, “Countdown to Extinction”, which said things like: “In early 2019, Greenpeace challenged more than 50 traders, retailers, producers, and consumer goods companies to demonstrate their progress towards ending deforestation by disclosing their cattle, cocoa, dairy, palm oil, pulp and paper, and soya suppliers. Not a single company was able to demonstrate meaningful effort to eradicate deforestation from its supply chain.” You can listen to a long podcast I taped with Greenpeace’s Richard George about the report.
And there’s more, including some of our own coverage. Here’s a few examples:
So, lot’s going on, as there has been since we started Innovation Forum in 2014 and started working in this area in a lot more depth than in the past.
We are in some worrying times at the moment. Greenpeace and Mighty Earth, key actors in driving policy (if not enough progress) have taken quite uncompromising stances (to say the least) in recent months.
Demanding an end to unsustainable – which means almost all – meat and dairy, and calling Cargill the world’s worst company is just too simplistic and not tactically/strategically sensible.
My sense is they feel a half-decade of ‘engagement’ and ‘dialogue’ is not solving an issue they, and many scientists feel is becoming ever more pressing. I sympathise with that, but I disagree with the current tactics.
I don’t see simply and only relying on big brands and their immediate suppliers to deliver the change is going to be enough. Companies find it very hard to be public about what they want government to do on specific areas such as legal enforcement, cleaning up judiciaries and the police, and demonstrating accountability for not hitting targets on the environment. I can see why. No-one voted for them. But this may have to change, in concert with those who have greater social legitimacy.
Equally, some campaign groups seem to have abandoned talking about what government can do, and are entirely business focused. But in the remaining forests of SE Asia, you can’t expect big corporate to deliver that change that will save what is left. And in Brazil, we’ve seen a president take over who seems to want to cut down as much forest and convert as much high carbon stock/biodiversity-rich land as possible, as fast as possible.
So what’s needed? It’s pretty obvious. Forests, biodiversity, climate change, related weather impacts etc etc, are all over the news. We need companies and campaigners to come together, to do the following:
- Agree on both sides, that it’s not all about business. It’s about harnessing increased knowledge and awareness to drive change. That’s change in enforcement, in incentives, in accountability
- Together, leverage that knowledge and awareness we all have now for localised and international pressure on Governments to enforce their laws. Can this push Indonesia to shut down illegal mid size company operations where deforestation is happening? Will it help persuade Brazilians to rise up and demand their government save the Amazon? We don’t know. But we don’t know if we don’t try. I don’t see another option. Blaming business in the face of weak governance isn’t working. Demonising brands only goes so far. When we do too much of that, we let governments off the hook, and that is very dangerous. It’s already happened. We need to claim that ground back.
- In collaboration, show consumers how progress can be delivered, and help them understand their role in tackling the challenges. I see huge potential in media-friendly campaign groups and big brands, and traders and producers, working together to help show consumers how they can make a difference – and most importantly – what’s possible for them to expect from governments and everyone else, when it comes to real progress. I don’t just mean in Europe too, why not in India, Brazil, and Indonesia?
Liberal values (which are pretty important to this happening) have taken a beating recently. Beggar-thy-neighbour approaches by countries such as the US and UK are deeply unhelpful. But I do believe that brands and campaigners together, could drive change very quickly, if they just understood what they could achieve together.
What may make this happen, sooner rather than later, is climate change impact awareness and demand for concrete action. Forests are one of the areas where smart policy and enforcement can make a huge difference quickly. It’s frankly, an easy win compared so say, baseload power generation, in many cases. It will take some significant mindset changes in large companies, and in the campaign groups who create the headlines about their impact. But if there is one crisis that should bring us together, it is the climate one.
In the EU, we’re seeing some serious efforts starting to be put behind tackling deforestation and sustainable commodities. That’s at the same time, and I guess partly driven by, the Mercosur trade deal concerns that have been legitimately raised. See this piece from the CDP website, for example. Here’s a quote:
“We now welcome the European Commission’s announcement of 23rd July of a new set of actions to protect and restore forests. It lays out a definitive blueprint for the incoming new EU Commission and comes at a critical time when the level of action taken will determine whether we will meet the well-below 2 degree goal.”
“Over 70% of European companies asked by their investors or customers to report critical forests-related data to CDP failed to do so in 2018…Moreover, there is a substantial gap in 2020 commitments made by companies closest to production and those that control land. Only 16% of these companies have a 2020 forest commitment in place, compared to 86% of companies with no control over land. This means all market actors, policymakers and civil society organizations must develop incentives for supporting producers to commit to commitments set downstream.”
This last part is key. Companies and campaigners need to be on the inside of this. Not watering down efforts, or making unrealistic demands on a narrow group of actors.
Here’s a good example of where a much more united front on policy related to deforestation is driving one bad actor to probably run out of banks to lend to them, eventually.
For our part at Innovation Forum, we need to do more on the above. We’re making an effort with the below. But in writing this it’s become even more obvious to me we’re not doing nearly enough on the government side. Time to redouble our efforts. Note how weak our own speaker list is on government. That’s partly because we ask business people and key NGOs first, and work on government later, but clearly we’ve not done enough, and need to do more.
The two day forum will bring together 350+ key stakeholders to discuss the key issues faced by business in creating a net positive impact and ensuring sustainable, resilient agricultural supply chains.
Speakers so far include:
Marc Engel, chief supply chain officer, Unilever
Jesslyne Widjaja, executive director, Golden Agri-Resources
Ian McIntosh, CEO, Louis Dreyfus Company
John Sauven, executive director, Greenpeace UK
Benjamin Ware, global head of responsible sourcing, Nestlé
Jonathan Horrell, director, sustainability, Mondelez International
Abyd Karmali, managing director, climate finance, Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Ellen Rasmussen, vice president, sustainability programmes and global projects, Yara
Laurence Ruffieux, global sustainability director, Philip Morris International
Nisrine Zaaraoui, global head of raw materials sustainable sourcing, L’Oréal
Mikhail Tarasov, head of global forestry, IKEA
Simon Lord, chief sustainability officer, Sime Darby
Lucita Jasmin, director of sustainability & external affairs, APRIL
Miguel Veiga-Pestana, SVP corporate affairs & sustainability, Reckitt Benckiser
See here for the full list of confirmed speakers to date.
Tanya Richard | Project Director
Innovation Forum: events and insights for sustainability
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