Clearer public-private pathways are putting us on the right track
The end of 2020 marks a crossroads that is both deeply worrying and quite exciting. Deforestation and conversion of natural ecosystems continue unabated, with 3.8 million hectares of tropical primary forest lost in 2019—a 2.8% increase from the previous year. Wildfires rage from the Amazon to the Arctic, and the recent Living Planet Report released by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) shows an average 68% decrease in population sizes of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish in less than 50 years. Deforestation is enabling more human-animal contact and raising the chances of new pandemics spilling over to humans; it also continues to be a primary driver of climate change, creating a vicious cycle.
Concurrently, conservation and restoration of forests, and nature more broadly, have been elevated on the global agenda. Forests are included in the Paris Agreement and in the land-based carbon targets of many countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions. And, building from the experiences of REDD+, governments at the national and subnational level in many key commodity-producing regions are translating these ambitions into action by providing leadership in place-based, multistakeholder efforts to address deforestation and conversion. Increasingly, governments and the business community are engaging with each other. Ghana, for instance, has created action plans with cocoa buyers to address deforestation. In Indonesia, the National Action Plan for Sustainable Palm Oil is providing a structure around which palm oil companies can coordinate their forest protection and restoration efforts in line with government strategies.
Meanwhile, the business case for far more expansive action to protect nature has become obvious. Nature loss is no longer just an issue of reputational risk—it threatens the future of commodity supply and the jobs linked with raw material production. Forest loss is damaging soil quality while changing weather patterns are reducing yields of planted crops. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2020 ranked biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse among the top five threats the global economy will face in the next 10 years.
The private sector has taken notice and begun to evolve its sustainability ambitions to match the scale of the challenge confronting nature. Over the last decade, much of the business community committed to eliminate deforestation from its commodity sourcing, and the Accountability Framework initiative (AFi) and Collaboration for Forests and Agriculture (CFA) have created best-practice guidance to support implementation. More recently, leading companies have begun to align with government and other actors in producing regions on strategies that go beyond individual supply chains to address underlying drivers of nature loss. Several important platforms like the Consumer Goods Forum and Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) are helping to mainstream expectations that the public and private sectors should collaborate through landscape and jurisdictional initiatives.
This trend is encouraging, but the overall number of companies engaging in these scaled efforts remains low. Major barriers have included uncertainty around the business case for multistakeholder collaboration and a dearth of clear examples to follow. There is also misalignment between the sort of actions civil society is asking companies to undertake and the sustainability practices for which companies are currently recognized and rewarded.
But barriers to engagement are coming down. Over the past year, a group of organizations has developed a suite of new tools and guidance to enable broader company engagement in production geographies where they are invested or exposed. Whereas AFi and CFA provide the key guidance for implementing deforestation/conversion-free commitments within supply chains, these new tools elaborate complementary guidance for addressing systemic drivers. They pull from concrete examples to help companies understand and navigate through their options to engage. And thoughtful collaborations have positioned these tools to be reasonably aligned, thus avoiding the pitfalls of conflicting guidance from civil society.
- A new paper from the United Nations Development Program, Value Beyond Value Chains, clarifies why and broadly how companies can engage in landscape and jurisdictional initiatives. It explains the business case for collaborating beyond value chains at landscape, subnational, and national levels to help create the enabling conditions for sustainable production and provides broad schemas to help companies think about how to engage in multistakeholder initiatives in producer countries.
- A complementary paper from Proforest, Engaging with Landscape Initiatives, fleshes out the how and adds guidance on where to engage. It walks through steps companies should take when thinking about how to engage in landscapes, describing elements of the engagement process like building trust, planning and implementing interventions, and monitoring of progress. And it helps companies understand their supply base, how to prioritize landscapes for engagement, and decide which initiatives they might work with.
- A resource that Walmart recently launched provides more granularity on the question of where to engage, providing maps that show the jurisdictions where companies are likeliest to source key deforestation-risk commodities and the deforestation risk of these jurisdictions.
- Building on these tools, TFA released a set of corporate guidance and a dynamic web-based tool developed by WWF and Proforest that goes the next step in describing what specific actions companies can implement to advance landscape and jurisdictional initiatives. It provides concrete interventions companies can take, offers real-world examples where companies are already doing so, and proposes guidance on how to execute.
- Each of the previous tools informs corporate action. New guidance from ISEAL Alliance on Verification of Jurisdictional Claims lays out the parameters for assuring progress at the landscape/jurisdictional scale and for making credible claims about contributions toward that progress. It walks through practical steps to ensure the integrity of landscape-level performance data and how progress is communicated, and it explores the types of claims companies can make depending on the ways they engage.
While time is running out to reverse global ecosystem loss, we’re finally at a point where governments and companies are beginning to mobilize at the scale required to meet our conservation imperatives. Thanks to this new guidance, the pathways for corporate action are clearer than ever. Now, with these tools in hand, the moment has come for public-private partners to accelerate their joint efforts—for the future of the natural world and generations to come.