This post was co-authored with Carita Chan, an intern with WRI's forests initiative.
As the crisis of tropical deforestation reaches a new level of urgency due to forest fires raging in Indonesia, an important question is how can the world satisfy the growing demand for forest products while still preserving forest ecosystems? This week, some of the world’s largest companies will join U.S. and Indonesian government officials in Jakarta at the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020) meeting to discuss this issue.
The meeting comes three years after the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), a group of the world’s 400 largest consumer goods companies from 70 countries, announced their commitment to source only deforestation-free commodities in their supply chains and help achieve net-zero deforestation by 2020. The TFA 2020, a public-private partnership established in 2012 at the Rio+20 Summit, aims to provide concrete guidance on how to implement the forum’s pledge.
The CGF pledge could significantly influence the way these commodities are produced: The group boasts combined annual sales of more than $3 trillion, and includes leading brands such as Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Walmart, and IKEA. The TFA 2020 meeting will discuss a number of ways that the GCF can achieve its goal and push the industry as whole. A few of the most significant include:
1. Degraded Lands
One of the most pressing issues in Indonesia is the clearing of primary forest and peat land for agricultural expansion. Analysis done by WRI finds that there are ample opportunities to shift agribusiness development onto already-cleared degraded lands, which are low in stored carbon and biodiversity. This concept has gained traction, yet questions remain about how to define degraded lands, as well as the challenges and opportunities to developing such lands.
WRI and its partners work to identify degraded lands suitable for palm oil production, using biophysical, economic, social, and legal criteria. We have piloted our research method in the island of Kalimantan, Indonesia. Our results indicate that there are potentially 14 million hectares of degraded land in Kalimantan alone that would be suitable for palm oil development. This is a tremendous opportunity to fulfill commodity production goals while respecting the CGF’s zero-deforestation commitment.
Since 2010, Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has stated his commitment to utilize degraded lands for commodity expansion, which has sparked initial interest among the palm oil industry and helped inform government policies around this topic. Multi-stakeholder groups such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) have also issued guidance on how to expand the palm oil crop without further forest conversion.
2. Forest Monitoring
Commodity producers pledging zero-deforestation can also take advantage of recent technological breakthroughs in forest monitoring and satellite technologies. These technologies can boost transparency throughout corporate supply chains. Tools such as the Forest Cover Analyzer, Eyes on the Forest, and the soon-to-be-launched Global Forest Watch 2.0 enable anyone with an Internet connection to see when and where forest cover change occurs in a given area. The Indonesian government also has various forest monitoring initiatives in different agencies.
During last week’s smog haze, for example, WRI published data suggesting that Indonesia’s fires may be linked to land-clearing by the country’s biggest commodities, wood pulp and palm oil. This is not a new trend – there is a growing global demand for both substances, and in the past, production has often come at the expense of forests. Estimates show that 57 percent of Indonesia’s deforestation is attributable to clearing for palm oil plantations, with another 20 percent comes from pulp and paper. The ability to rapidly pinpoint exactly when and where forest fires happened and determine who is responsible is unprecedented. These innovations help governments, companies, and civil society quickly and effectively measure and reduce deforestation.
3. Legal and Voluntary Certifications
Another instrumental part of achieving the zero-deforestation goal is to effectively utilize various certification mechanisms and legal requirements that mandate sustainable practice. These standards include carefully constructed principles and criteria that guide commodity production and processing to a set of best practices, such as no-burning and no-deforestation on primary forest and peat lands. As a result of complying with these requirements, a product may be labeled as “certified” sustainable. Companies use these certification schemes to ensure that a product is made in a responsible way. Many of the CGF companies have pledged to meet their no-deforestation targets through sourcing only certified products.
The TFA 2020 meeting is an exciting opportunity. The world’s largest commodity companies will join policymakers to discuss affordable, practical ways to achieve zero tropical deforestation by 2020. Bringing these groups together can help identify the solutions that are already working and expand them to achieve meaningful, global change.