On Monday here at the World Forestry Congress, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released its latest assessment of the state of the planet’s forests. While the global rate of deforestation has slowed, it remains unacceptably high in many tropical regions.
The Sustainable Development Goals, to be agreed next month at the United Nations, call for a halt to deforestation by 2020. The FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment confirms we need to work faster and smarter to get anywhere near this target by 2020.
In this context, the recent groundswell of private sector commitments to deforestation-free production, commodity sourcing, and financing is a promising step, not only toward stopping deforestation but also to achieving a sustainable supply of food, fibre and energy.
Yesterday, I joined representatives from the World Business Council of Sustainable Development, World Resources Institute and The Forests Dialogue to debate the practicalities of achieving deforestation-free supply chains, including the implications for communities and smallholders living in and around forests.
One big challenge is the lack of consensus around what qualifies as deforestation-free production and how this should be verified.
In addition, an overly narrow focus on deforestation could risk drawing attention away from the problem of forest degradation or loss of non-forest habitats like wetlands and grasslands. It will also be important to ensure other dimensions of sustainability, like water stewardship, health and safety, pollution, human rights and social welfare, are not sidelined.
Voluntary private sector initiatives alone cannot address the full suite of deforestation drivers. Governments need to come to the party. Policies and laws should support, not hinder, companies that choose to protect forests within their land holdings, and should deter trade in products associated with illegal logging and forest clearing.