Major firms still failing to tackle deforestation: Global canopy

Almost 200 countries at the COP28 climate talks last year gave their support to the goal of halting and reversing deforestation by 2030.

Published - February 29, 2024 09:10 am IST - Paris

Representational image of a deforested area in the middle of the Amazon forest

Representational image of a deforested area in the middle of the Amazon forest | Photo Credit: Reuters

Many global brands with supply chains linked to tropical forest loss do not have a single deforestation policy, said non-profit research group Global Canopy, adding that 10 years of monitoring showed voluntary action from industry “has failed”, in a report published Tuesday.

From land clearance for cattle farming to palm oil plantations, there is growing recognition of the human-driven threats to the world’s forests and the importance of protecting them in the fight against climate change and devastating biodiversity loss.

Almost 200 countries at the COP28 climate talks last year gave their support to the goal of halting and reversing deforestation by 2030.

The Forest 500 analysis by Global Canopy, noted “pockets of progress” from a handful of leading brands. But 10 years after it first began its annual monitoring of a rolling selection of firms with the biggest impact on tropical forests, the organisation said companies and the financial institutions that fund them are still falling short.

Of the 257 companies and financial institutions that have been in the Forest 500 for the past decade, 61 - 23% still have not published a single commitment on addressing deforestation, it said.

“Voluntary action has failed and we can’t rely on it any further to achieve deforestation free, conversion free and human rights abuse free supply chains, we do need to see regulation,” said Emma Thomson, who led the research.

“In terms of what we need to see, for the next 10 years, we need to see rapid action, rapid implementation and real change,” Thomson told AFP.

The group welcomed new deforestation legislation from the European Union, urging the bloc to go further and the United States and Britain to speed up their own legislation.

But Global Canopy said only 1% of firms in its analysis are currently on track to be compliant with the new EU rules.

The Forest 500 report provides a snapshot of 350 companies and 150 financial firms whose operations and investments it says have an oversized impact on tropical forests.

It looks particularly at whether companies have stated policies on beef, leather, soy, palm oil, timber, pulp and paper - commodities linked to the majority of tropical deforestation.

Public pressure

In this year’s analysis, the report found 187 companies and financial institutions - 37% do not have a publicly available deforestation commitment, compared to 40% last year.

According to the report, three institutions that provide the most finance to companies in Global Canopy’s ranking without having any deforestation commitments are JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial.

Even among the 246 companies with at least one deforestation commitment, the report said some 63% had not published sufficient evidence that their actions match their intentions, citing firms like Adidas, Starbucks and Gap.

For example, despite having commitments for timber, leather, pulp and paper, furnishing giant Ikea lacked evidence for the proportion of its leather or paper that actually met these commitments, the report said.

For leather, the report said, Ikea also has no published details of how it monitors suppliers. Ikea was not immediately available for comment.

Overall the report said while public pressure had caused firms to make concerted efforts to address deforestation linked to palm oil, the widespread impacts of the cattle sector was given far less focus.

“Beef production in particular is the largest driver of tropical deforestation, it is a really significant issue,” said Ms. Thomson.

“We don’t want to move attention from palm oil to cattle - then deforestation can start to creep into other commodities, it needs to be more attention on all of them.”

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