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World Wildlife Fund On Balance

filtered by category: Forests

  • Date: 27 July 2017
  • Author: Jill Schwartz

When U Zaw Htun Myint drives by or walks in Myanmar’s forests, he sees great potential for them to be the world’s safest and healthiest places for tigers, elephants and other wildlife.

That’s why he travelled to neighboring Thailand this month with a dozen people from his country. They were on a mission to learn more about the natural rubber industry—including how to create such an industry without harming prime forest habitat. As the largest producer and exporter of natural rubber, Thailand is the perfect classroom for learning what to do. And what not to do.

Woman talking

Sudarat Sangkum of WWF Thailand talks to U Zaw Htun Myint about sustainable rubber production during a Thailand rubber plantation tour organized by Dr. Buncha Somboonsuke of Prince of Songkla University.

On the trip, organized by WWF, U Zaw Htun Myint and his group of government and private rubber industry leaders learned about the entire natural rubber production supply chain. They visited a rubber plantation created on degraded (not prime) forest land, a cooperative where latex is processed into sheets of rubber, a market where rubber sheets are sold, an industrial complex where rubber sheets are used to create shoes and other products, a university where rubber research is conducted, and more.

“I have so much hope for the rubber industry. If done right, it can be a great way to improve livelihoods and protect wildlife habitat.”

U Zaw Htun Myint
Deputy Director general of the Myanmar Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation

The trip was important because the Myanmar government’s 30-year master plan for agriculture aims to make Myanmar a natural rubber (as well as palm oil) power house of Asia. It’s a logical goal, as southeast Asia is the best place in the world to grow rubber trees. (That’s why 90 percent of the world’s rubber comes from southeast Asia.) Southern Myanmar is a particularly good region for growing rubber because of the wet weather.

Ensuring that the rubber industry is sustainable—especially from an environmental and social standpoint—is particularly important in Myanmar because most of the planned rubber production (nearly 600,000 acres) is slated for the Tanintharyi region. The Dawna Tenasserim Landscape (DTL), which cuts across southern Myanmar and northern Thailand, dominates the region. The landscape, mainly natural forests, is the largest intact natural landscape in Southeast Asia and a priority landscape for WWF. Critically endangered tigers and Asian elephants, as well as a range of other species thrive in this habitat.

But the DTL is at great risk of becoming fragmented, which would threaten the natural resources which species and people in Myanmar rely on to survive. One of the biggest threats to the landscape is unsustainable expansion of land for growing rubber and palm oil.

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A new highway being built in the Tanintharyi region cuts through forests that are prime habitat for elephants and opens the door for more plantation industries, such as rubber, that will threaten wildlife habitat if not done sustainably.

The opportunity to address these threats is greater now than ever before, as a new national government is in place in Myanmar. Already, with the help of WWF, the government is drafting a rubber law that would protect forests that are important from a conservation standpoint. Also, a new market for sustainable rubber is developing. In early 2015, Michelin (the world’s largest buyer of natural rubber and second largest tire manufacturer) partnered with WWF and announced a new sourcing policy related to natural rubber.

The trip to Thailand helped U Zaw Htun Myint think through some potential next steps to create a sustainable rubber industry in Myanmar—such as conducting research to improve the technology available in his country to make tires and other rubber products, as well as furniture made from the wood of rubber trees.

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75 percent of the world’s natural rubber, including these rubber sheets in Thailand, is used to create tires: more than 30 percent of a truck tire and 15 percent of a car tire is natural rubber.

He also got ideas on how to accomplish one of the high priorities for his ministry—improving rubber yields, rather than expansion of acreage for growing rubber trees (therefore, expanding the industry more vertically than horizontally). Rubber yields in Myanmar are half of what they are in Thailand and among the lowest in the world. WWF is working with other entities to educate Myanmar’s rubber producers about best management practices for rubber so they can increase their yields in a sustainable way.

“This was a good trip and now I want to send more people from Myanmar to Thailand to learn even more,” U Zaw Htun Myint said.

  • Date: 21 February 2017
  • Author: Jason Clay

When a large, global food company commits to deforestation-free commodities, its entire supply chain listens. And when McDonald’s does so, other global food companies follow suit. That’s why the company’s commitment to source only deforestation-free beef by 2020 in regions with identified risks relating to the preservation of forests holds such promise to protect critical habitats, including Latin America’s most valuable ecosystems.

While deforestation has slowed across parts of the Amazon, it remains the world’s largest arc of deforestation. Furthermore, as if to compensate for progress in the Brazilian Amazon, deforestation has intensified in other Amazon regions of countries neighboring Brazil, as well as the Cerrado savannah of Brazil, and the Chaco mixed grass and woodlands of Paraguay and Argentina.

Many factors drive deforestation, but beef production is the biggest. Cattle ranching occupies about 80 percent of the deforested area in the Amazon, and it has led to the conversion of nearly 200 million acres of Cerrado habitat. Between 1976 and 2011, more than 29 million acres of Chaco habitat were converted largely first for the production of beef and then soy, a feed source for livestock.

The environmental impacts of deforestation are clear: it contributes to climate change, drought, soil degradation and erosion, water pollution, the spread of disease, and the loss of biodiversity. There are a number of social impacts as well from land conflicts to bonded and child labor, the displacement of indigenous cultures, and deterioration of water quality for drinking and fish, the most common source of protein in many affected areas.

From multinational traders to smallholder farmers, businesses increasingly recognize the economic risks of deforestation, such as resource scarcity and soil degradation, supply chain instability, legal jeopardy, and reputational harm. Its impact on weather variability is particularly troublesome for Latin American farmers who largely rely on rain as opposed to irrigation. Indeed, research indicates that deforestation has contributed to several “once-in-a-century” droughts and floods in Brazil since 2000.

Global food companies are in a unique position to influence not only their own supply chains but also that of their rivals. McDonald’s need for ground beef from select cuts leaves the majority of each animal for other buyers. In other words, for every pound of deforestation-free beef raised on farms that supply to McDonald’s, several more pounds of food—as well as leather and other byproducts—are destined for other companies’ supply chains, facilitating a sector-wide move to conserve forests.

WWF is working to support the transition to deforestation-free commodities, such as beef, soy, palm oil, timber, and so on. As a founding member of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, for example, WWF works with producers, other industry players, environmental NGOs, and researchers to push for the adoption of locally appropriate indicators and metrics that help producers reduce the footprint of the beef they produce. In collaboration with National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, we are securing commitments from other companies in the beef and soy supply chains to eliminate deforestation in the Amazon, Cerrado, and Chaco ecosystems specifically.

Just as the global, interconnected food system means that environmental and economic impacts can reverberate around the world, so too can positive commitments to protect forests ripple out across the entire industry. As one of the largest single buyers of beef, McDonald’s influences producers, processors, distributors, and other companies at every point along the value chain. Today, it is sending a clear message to all of them: the future of beef is deforestation-free.

  • Date: 25 January 2017
  • Author: David McLaughlin, VP, Agriculture, Markets and Food

In a global movement to protect the world’s tropical forests, countless companies, governments, NGOs and indigenous peoples’ organizations have committed to ending deforestation. Many include the world’s largest food companies who have pledged to eliminate deforestation from their agricultural supply chains, including from the production of palm oil. While this international ambition shows great promise, the challenge now rests with finding a way to ensure that these commitments are successfully implemented.

Fortunately, the increased availability of publicly available spatial data from satellite imagery and other sources has revolutionized the way the world sees and can respond to deforestation. Platforms such as Global Forest Watch (GFW) have extended the accessibility of global datasets to track deforestation in near real-time, and carry with them new possibilities to better protect forests.

With support from GFW, World Wildlife Fund–US is piloting a new tool, the Jurisdictional Risk Assessment, or JRA, to enable companies and governments to leverage this wealth of data to prioritize their own efforts to reduce and end deforestation, particularly as they relate to addressing illegal deforestation.

The JRA allows palm oil buyers, governments, and other end-users to assess and compare the extent and rate of past deforestation activities within the palm oil producing districts of Indonesia. More specifically, the JRA is based on a set of key risk assessment indicators, designed to capture only deforestation that is achieved in a manner that is not permitted, or which takes place where certain laws and policies prohibit deforestation or conversion in Indonesia. For example, the tool identifies districts that have experienced historically higher rates of deforestation in primary forests, protected areas, peatland, and certain sections of the country’s Forest Estate through activities considered illegal such as through the use of fire for land conversion. By highlighting jurisdictions associated with higher risk, palm oil buyers can better prioritize their traceability and due diligence efforts toward achieving their commitments to deforestation-free supply chains. Similarly, governments can use the analysis to prioritize domestic efforts to meet climate targets through policy measures and land use planning to reduce deforestation.

Traceability has long been a challenge for food companies, particularly in the palm oil sector. Complex supply chains leave food companies with significant difficulty in verifying the extent to which their products are associated with deforestation and illegal activities, exposing them to a variety of legal, financial, and reputational risks.

In Indonesia, district heads, known as bhupatis, have significant authority over the granting, development and enforcement of rules surrounding palm oil concessions. As a result, the Jurisdictional Risk Assessment is conducted at the district level. While the pilot focuses on palm oil in Indonesia, it could be adapted in further phases for other commodities and geographies associated with deforestation.

Among other important considerations, the JRA is based primarily on remote sensing data and does not quantify social risks (e.g., land insecurity, labor rights). It is also based on historic data but could potentially be developed to self-update with more current data flows as they become available. The JRA is not intended to be used as a standalone tool with regard to procurement decisions across jurisdictions. However, it can complement other sources of information (in particular, local knowledge and consultations) to paint a broader picture of deforestation risks and underlying conditions in order to facilitate decision-making.

Forests are increasingly recognized for the numerous critical roles they play on this planet, from filtering the air we breathe and purifying the water we drink, to providing habitat for a vast array of biodiversity, and providing an important buffer against the impacts of a changing climate. Their destruction poses direct threats to the very livelihoods of local communities as well as the business interests of local and multinational companies. By shining more light on deforestation risks, companies, governments, and all those seeking to end deforestation can better prioritize their efforts to strengthen due diligence and sustainable production practices at scale—a positive step for everyone, all 7.4 billion of us.

  • Date: 03 November 2016
  • Author: Kerry Cesareo, WWF-US Senior Director & Deputy Lead, Forests

Over the last 20 years, credible certification has resulted in hundreds of millions of acres of forests being protected, either through responsible management or avoided deforestation.

Today, over 470 million acres of forestland are certified as responsibly managed under the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC’s) rigorous standards. When consumers see the FSC label on the paper, wood, and other forest products they buy, they can feel confident that their purchase is not contributing to deforestation or forest degradation. The same is true for credible labels related to responsible agriculture, such as the Rainforest Alliance and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil ‘Next’ labels, as the expansion of farms and ranches severely threaten the world’s forests.

Saving the world’s forests will be impossible without these market-based systems. But more is needed.

We need to reinforce the building blocks of certification and take their benefits to broader scales by plugging in a focus on governance--especially in places where weak governance and enforcement undermines conservation efforts.

Enter the jurisdictional approach to addressing deforestation and forest degradation.

At the heart of this approach are the governments, companies, and community members in a government jurisdiction (e.g., district, state, or province) that have a common interest in forest conservation. Bringing these voices together makes it possible to craft lasting solutions by combining the market power of companies, the lawmaking and enforcement ability of governments, and the ingenuity and deep ecological knowledge of the people who live in the forest.

Working at a jurisdictional level also helps ensure that efforts to protect forests in one place don’t simply kick the deforestation problem down the road. And engaging all concerned groups within a jurisdiction makes it possible for the public and private sectors to work through big challenges collaboratively, such as how to meet the target each country set in Paris in December to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

But how do jurisdictional approaches work? Who is involved and what strategies are being used? Jurisdictional Approaches to Zero Deforestation Commodities, a new WWF paper, addresses these questions by mapping out a variety of initiatives underway in more than 25 jurisdictions.

Given that the initiatives are in the early stages, the jurisdictions are serving as petri dishes—where different methods are being tried to scale up deforestation-free production of commodities.

For example, the State of Sabah, Malaysia is pursuing a plan focused on large-scale certification of palm oil. By 2025, it intends to evolve palm oil certification within its borders from a tool that promotes good management at the plantation level to one which would assure that all palm oil produced in the State meets the criteria of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil.

In contrast, an initiative jointly announced by Marks & Spencer and Unilever at the Paris Climate Conference last year seeks to leverage global demand signals rather than work in any one location in particular. The two companies are developing criteria by which any jurisdiction can demonstrate that it is effectively tackling deforestation. Companies can then reward this progress and move closer to zero deforestation in their own supply chains by preferentially purchasing from these jurisdictions.

The findings in this paper will guide WWF as we ramp up our own jurisdictional work in the coming months. We also will use them to explore ways to energize and focus knowledge exchange among governments, companies, and organizations that are leading the experimentation with jurisdictional approaches. Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 is one important platform where this is happening, and is already supporting an analysis that will build on the lessons from our paper and examine a few jurisdictional initiatives in more depth.

Certification is an indispensable tool for conserving forests. Jurisdictional approaches to addressing deforestation offer a way to amplify this impact by bringing together all actors that share a landscape or jurisdiction to forge a unified conservation agenda.

  • Date: 14 October 2015
  • Author: Linda Walker

The first time I saw tiger tracks in the snow was during the winter of 2009. I was in a Russian Far East forest with my WWF-Russia colleagues.

It was so exhilarating, especially given that we knew that the tracks were from an Amur tiger – a regal-looking endangered species that only is found in the Russian Far East. Fewer than 550 such tigers exist.

Given how close I felt to a tiger that day, my heart sank when, later that afternoon, we witnessed a brigade of illegal loggers steal timber from the Tayozhny Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is one of the last habitats for the Amur tiger. It is part of a forest that looks amazingly similar to an Appalachian forest – with oak, ash and pine-covered hillsides, as well as mist-laden valleys. But the Russian forest is on the brink of destruction. And pervasive illegal logging is the main culprit. Much of this timber from the forest flows into China and is made into flooring, furniture and other products that find their way to unsuspecting consumers in the United States, Europe and Japan.

A recent settlement brings us one step closer to stopping illegal logging in the Russian Far East and, hopefully, other important forests.

On October 7, Lumber Liquidators, North America’s largest specialty retailer of hardwood flooring, announced that it would plead guilty to violations of the Lacey Act. This US law, which originally was passed to prohibit illegal wildlife trade, was amended in 2008 to also prohibit illegal timber and timber products, among other products, from entering the US market and being traded in the US.

The news is a major coup for conservation, as illegal and unsustainable logging is responsible for most of the degradation of the world’s forests.

“Given how close I felt to a tiger that day, my heart sank when, later that afternoon, we witnessed a brigade of illegal loggers steal timber from the Tayozhny Wildlife Refuge. ”

Linda Walker
Director, Global Forest & Trade Network-North America

According to Lumber Liquidator’s SEC filings, the settlement between Lumber Liquidators and the US Department of Justice relates primarily to the company’s import of flooring from China. Some of this flooring was made with timber that was overharvested beyond permitted amounts from the Russian Far East. Some shipments from China also contained false declarations regarding the species and/or the country of harvest. The case also involved timber from Myanmar that was manufactured in China and misdeclared as a different species from Indonesia. The company also agreed to make a total of $13.2 million in payments as part of the settlement.

This case, the facts of which were also the subject of an investigative report in 2013 by the non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency, illustrates the critical role of the Lacey Act. WWF is working to ensure the implementation of amendments to the legislation that were made in 2008 to include timber products. Implementation requires funding. WWF and nearly 500,000 of our supporters have called on Congress to provide US government agencies with the funding they need to implement the Lacey Act.

The case also demonstrates the important role of companies and consumers in stopping illegal logging. Many organizations, including WWF, offer tools and resources to help companies practice due care for legal and responsible sourcing that can help forests, wildlife and communities thrive. And consumers, when shopping for flooring, paper, or any forest product, to look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label, knowing it’s the best sign available of legal and responsible sourcing.

As Director of WWF's Global Forest & Trade Network-North America program, Linda promotes responsible forest management and trade in WWF priority places by engaging with North American companies committed to sourcing wood and paper products from well-managed and credibly-certified forests.

  • Date: 05 August 2015

The green Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo on a product means the most responsible forest management practices were used to make the product. Smaller trees were not harmed when harvesting larger trees, the rights of people living in or near the forest were respected, wildlife habitat was not degraded, and more.

Many forest operators know this or are learning about it. That’s huge progress. But taking action to get the FSC certification is another story. Often, they think the cost of FSC will have a negative impact on their bottom line.

A WWF study published today dispels this belief.

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  • Date: 24 October 2014
  • Author: Linda Walker, Director, Global Forest & Trade Network-North America

I was optimistic—but cautiously so—when we launched our Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) North America program in 2006. Would companies be interested in technical assistance from World Wildlife Fund to assess where there might be risks in their wood and paper supply chains that relate to social and environmental impacts? Could we work together to create robust sourcing policies to mitigate those risks and transparently show their stakeholders the progress being made? Could we collaborate on ways to help the companies increase their sourcing of forest products that are certified to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standard, which we believe includes the most rigorous requirements for ensuring environmental and social responsibility?

What I have learned is that, for some very influential US companies, the answer is a resounding yes. The stepwise approach to responsible sourcing can benefit forests and companies alike.

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  • Date: 16 October 2014
  • Author: Amy Smith

Domtar Corporation recently reached a major milestone: selling its five millionth ton of Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) certified uncoated fine paper. This is a first for the North American market and marks an important step in Domtar’s larger goal of 100 percent FSC certified sourcing.

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  • Date: 21 March 2014
  • Author: Linda Walker, WWF

Talking with companies after my panel discussion at the Tissue World Americas conference, it’s clear that many buyers of tissue and paper products have questions about whether they should reward Asia Pulp and Paper’s (APP) forest pledge with purchasing contracts.

I’ll reiterate here the advice I gave to these individuals and to any company committed to responsible sourcing: Don’t. It’s too soon.

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  • Date: 23 December 2013
  • Author: Paige Goff, Domtar

This time of year provides clarity to what is important in life. I have a four year old son (four and half…he would insist). Seeing his excitement over the presents under the tree, visiting Santa, enjoying all the decorations and the delicious sweets, hearing the seasonal sounds, and sensing the magical charm during this time of year definitely makes me remember the simple joys in life. At four (and a half), my son is watching us closely, clearly starting to formulate ideas on how holidays—and life—should be run in our household. We have a pull-out trashcan with dividers (regular trash and recyclables), which he is always opening the trash to make sure mommy and daddy placed the right items in the correct trashcan. He loves to let us know when we’ve made a mistake. We call him the recycling patrol! And with all the holiday card envelopes and mailing boxes we’re receiving right now, he’s on extra high alert.

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