From Greater Production Traceability to Combating Biodiversity Loss and Meeting UN Sustainable Development Goal 15
Human interference in natural habitats has put the biological diversity of our planet at risk. According to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, 150 species are lost every day, which represents 10 percent of animals per decade. Furthermore, the UN estimates the proportion of land area covered by forest decreased from 31.6 percent in 1990 to 30.6 in 2015. Deforestation is a major cause of loss of biodiversity. The cultivation of palm, timber and pulp, soy and cattle farming are responsible for more than one-third of deforestation annually.
This is why one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), SDG 15 is committed to protecting, restoring and promoting “sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably managed forests, combating desertification reversing land degradation and halting biodiversity loss” by 2030.
According to Philip Fearnside, an ecologist at the National Institute for Research in Amazonia (INPA) in Brazil, “old deforestation motives continue, such as land speculation, money laundering and establishment of land tenure besides selling agriculture products for profit, meat production and soybean plantations”. In the Brazilian Amazon, the cattle sector is the largest driver of deforestation. On the other side of the world, the problems are very similar. Some parts of Southeast Asia are projected to lose 98 percent of the remaining forests in the next nine years. Even more alarming are the statistics showing that “Southeast Asia has some of the highest rates of deforestation on the planet, having lost 14.5 percent of forests in the last 15 years. Some areas, such as the Philippines, have lost up to 89 percent of their original forest cover.” The main drivers of deforestation in this region are pulp paper, rubber and palm oil production.
The expansion of the world population and the induced growing demand for natural resources makes it a challenge to halt deforestation. However, recent initiatives show that it is possible to curb the trend in the long term.
Joining Forces in Search for Answers
Partnerships have proved to be fundamental in implementing real solutions to deal with deforestation. The Amazon Biome Soy Moratorium is a pledge by companies not to trade or finance soy from areas deforested after 2008, which has since contributed to reducing deforestation in the Amazon region by 70 percent between 2005 and 2014. From the Soy Moratorium’s inception in 2006 until today, deforestation has fallen by 86 percent in the 76 municipalities covered by the moratorium, and these municipalities produce 98 percent of the soybeans in the Amazon biome. Through Greenpeace leading the initiative, McDonald’s and other large European companies that import soybean from Brazil established the European Soy Consumers Group and began to pressure their suppliers in Brazil.
Transparency in the Supply Chain
Earlier this year, Unilever became the first consumer goods company to publicly disclose the suppliers and mills it sources from. This is an important step for the company to achieve its 2020 goal of creating a fully traceable supply chain. More transparency in the selection and evaluation of suppliers requires greater efforts of corporations in their commitments, while also allowing consumers to have the necessary information to monitor the origin of the products they are acquiring, hence having an indirect opportunity in contributing to the fight against deforestation.
Certifications and Voluntary Commitments
Global voluntary agreements have emerged as alternatives to deal with different legislations and State supervision. Initiatives like Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 are engaging large corporations to demand that suppliers comply with the established commitments by advocating for more sustainable ways to produce and operate. Currently, around 21 percent of global palm production is certified under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
Technology for Traceability
Technology has allowed for the traceability of production in the supply chain. Easy to use and inexpensive solutions are becoming popular on the market like the Brazilian app BovControl, which allows cattle breeders to track the animal’s information through the input and monitoring of data. The main customers of this app are small- and medium-sized farms, which are now democratizing a technology previously used only by large producers. One of the benefits described by the app is to allow cattle breeders to demonstrate the origin of their products.
Some sectors appear to be more engaged than others to fight deforestation. “Companies are most likely to make commitments towards palm and timber and pulp. Of companies active in palm, 61 percent have adopted pledges, compared with only 15 percent of those companies active in cattle breeding. The disparity is alarming because it is estimated that cattle production causes 10 times more deforestation than palm.”Also, large public companies are more likely to make commitments than small private ones. Essentially, in order to achieve real results in fighting deforestation, a larger effort to push changes in supply chain will be necessary.
In conclusion, slowing down deforestation is vital for humans as forests are home to 300 million people, and millions more depend directly on them for their livelihoods. Despite all efforts made to decrease deforestation, additional efforts will be needed to ensure the sustainable management of forests worldwide.
by Taiana Vanzellotti, CSR Analyst