Efforts to protect the planet’s most valuable and important rainforests have been fruitful these past 20 years. Take the Brazilian Amazon, for example. Despite a slight blot on the record books in 2015 and 2016 when deforestation rates jumped 16% and 29% respectively, tree loss has been on a constant decline. In 2012, rates had dropped by 80% since recording first started during the late 1980s and this year, data from Brazil’s national space agency, INPE, shows that deforestation has once again fallen, this time by 16%.
However, in the drive to produce yet more and more food and consumer goods products, our forests remain under constant threat from agricultural expansion. As such, companies sourcing commodities and raw materials from regions tainted by deforestation face ongoing challenges, especially as many have developed more stringent policies and commitments to make sure their final products are not in any way connected to the loss of trees.
Here’s four reasons why corporates cannot afford to rest on their laurels.
- Sourcing shifting to the Brazilian Cerrado
The Brazilian Cerrado, the tropical Savannah and grasslands home to 5% of the planet’s biodiversity, is under threat. And is largely as a result of efforts to make sure companies are not sourcing commodities from the Amazon region of the country.
Rather than destroy forests to expand soy and cattle farms, a number of the agricultural players from which the big corporates buy ingredients have focussed instead on exploiting lands within the less-protected Cerrado. Between 2013 and 2015 some 19,000 square kilometres of the Cerrado made way for bigger intensive farming operations, according to INPE.
The big problem is that laws to protect the Cerrado are fairly weak. In fact, 85% of the conversion of the Cerrado’s native vegetation into soy plantations, for example, is legal under the Brazilian Forest Code.
As expected, the NGO community has responded by signing the Cerrado Manifesto which calls on companies to take action to protect the Cerrado, particularly those that buy soy and meat from the region. And a number of companies have responded to the Manifesto, promising to pay closer attention to the issue.
- Changing impacts of tropical forests
We all know how important tropical forests are to the wellbeing of our planet. Or at least we thought so.
A new study published in Science claims that tropical forests now they emit as much carbon dioxide as the entire transport industry of the US.
Of course, we all think of these forests as an all-important carbon sink thanks to their dense foliage, rich soils and rapid growth rate. But according to scientists, the tropical forests of South America and South East Asia have reached a turning point. Satellite data that quantifies net annual changes in the above-ground carbon density of tropical vegetation reveals that deforestation, drought and other “forest disturbance and degradation” have now made tropical forests a net producer of carbon. Instead of absorbing carbon, our degraded tropics are producing around 425 teragrams of carbon every year.
The news will come as a shock to many of the companies that continue to protect tropical forests as part of their wider climate change-related commitments.
- Brazil potentially rolling back on forest protection laws
Absorbing 1.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide a year, Brazil’s 390 billion trees are quite rightly referred to as the ‘lungs of the world’. But they are under threat because of the country’s current administration potentially easing its environmental protection laws in favour of fostering economic development.
Supporters of recent plans to clear almost 600,000 hectares of rainforest believe Brazil must open up more land for farming, cattle ranching and mining if it is to realise its economic potential and create jobs. The current position taken by the Government is that Brazil has plenty of protected areas and it really needs to open up land for development.
“President Temer and his allies in the agribusiness lobby are a direct threat not only to the climate and local biodiversity, but also to communities and indigenous people whose livelihoods depend on the Amazon rainforest,” says Cristiane Mazzetti from the forest campaign at Greenpeace Brasil.
- Inaction, even when problems are acknowledged
The latest campaign by Mighty Earth was significant because of its apparent “explicit proof of companies’ foreknowledge of the massive impacts they cause” when it comes to deforestation across South East Asia.
The NGO received the social and environmental impact assessment submitted to the Indonesian government in 2009 as part of the permitting process for establishing PT Bio Inti Agrindo (PT BIA) – a 39,000-hectare palm oil plantation located in Papua, Indonesia’s largest remaining intact rainforest.
And the assessment shows the company fully acknowledging the negative impacts its development would have on both the environment and the local community – and the Indonesian Government licensing the company’s development anyway.
For corporates, leaning on governments to keep local players in check is easier said than done.