Companies show little progress on forest protection pledge

No signs deforestation is slowing a year after New York Declaration on Forests, warn NGOs, but some positive measures

Net carbon emissions from land use change account for 10% of all human emissions over the past decade (Pic: Niels Mickers/Flickr)

Carbon emissions from deforestation and land converted for agriculture account for over 20% of greenhouse gas emissions (Pic: Niels Mickers/Flickr)

By Alex Pashley

Business has made a slow start on last year’s landmark pledge to fight deforestation, environmental groups have warned.

Last September, 150 companies signed the New York Declaration on Forests, vowing to halt clearance of natural forest within 15 years by making supply chains sustainable.

That means making sure trees are not hacked down to produce agricultural products like soy, palm oil and beef.

According to a report by a group of six green groups including the Environmental Defense Fund and Forest Trends, little progress has been registered.

“Unfortunately, there are no signs that the annual rate of forest loss is slowing,” said Charlotte Streck at Climate Focus.

“But battling deforestation is a massive challenge that can’t be turned around overnight. It’s remarkable that a little more than a year after the declaration was signed, we are seeing elements come into place that could pave the way towards major reductions in deforestation.”

Those include an increase in the amount of companies certifying the origin of their products.

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Companies have so far pledged over 40% of a target to restore 150 million hectares of degraded land – an area the size of Mongolia – by 2020, Streck said.

Achieving the Declaration’s goals could reduce global emissions by an estimated 4.5-8.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year.

But it is commercial agriculture that drives the bulk of deforestation.

According to a Global Canopy Programme report, most companies and investors are yet to recognise their role in slowing the activity.

Just 8% of 250 assessed have commitments to halt tree-cutting in their supply chains, applying across a bundle of the six top commodities that drive tree-cutting from leather to paper.

A US$135 billion annual trade continued in “forest risk commodities,” said Andrew Mitchell, of the Global Canopy Programme.

“There are big gaps between commitments and actions. We are not on track to clear our supply chains by 2020, or 2030.”

Read more on: Forests | UN climate talks