Paul Polman addresses Global Landscapes Forum on deforestation

Eradicating deforestation is essential to the sustainability of the food industry and an urgent priority in the battle against climate change, Paul Polman told the Global Landscapes Forum in Lima on 7 December.

“The most important issue of our generation”

In his keynote speech, the Unilever CEO said deforestation was “the most immediate and most urgent” challenge facing leaders in politics and business as they responded to “the most important issue of our generation”: climate change.

Underlining Unilever’s commitment to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain by 2020, Paul said that partnerships between business, local and national governments, local communities and other stakeholders were essential. He said: “Most CEOs now know their companies cannot prosper in a world of runaway climate change. They understand the need to work with political leaders to address the challenge.

“If we tackle deforestation in the right way, the benefits will be far-reaching: greater food security, improved livelihoods for millions of smallholders and indigenous people and, above all, a more stable climate.”

Producing food while protecting forests

Paul described how tackling deforestation was a particular issue for an agricultural sector that was facing rising demand for food.

Highlighting the fact that commercial agriculture had driven 71% of deforestation between 2000 and 2012, he said that deforestation could be halted by a combination of two approaches: improving the yields and incomes of smallholder farmers, and restoring degraded land.

“We have to produce more food,” Paul said. “And we have to protect forests and support the communities that depend on them. We can’t succeed in one challenge without succeeding in the other.”

Unilever was also focused on making its own supply chain transparent and traceable, he said. By the end of 2014, all palm oil sourced for Unilever’s foods business in Europe will be traceable to certified plantations, and we are working with the Global Forest Watch platform of the World Resources Institute to increase traceability within our supply chain.

Addressing climate change is a business necessity

With natural disasters, including those linked to climate change, already costing Unilever more than $300 million per year, addressing the issues “matters enormously” to the business, Paul said.

“We see volatility in input costs, water scarcity, and reduced productivity in parts of our agricultural supply chain. Left unchecked, climate change has the potential to become a significant barrier to our growth. That’s one reason why we’ve committed to source 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably by 2020.”

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