Protecting our forests
We’re working – both within our business and with others – to eliminate deforestation from agricultural commodity supply chains like palm oil, tackle climate change and achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal 15 – Life on Land.
We have to stop deforestation
Forests are essential to life. They are the lungs of our planet and help to regulate our climate. And they’re second only to oceans as the largest global store of carbon. Up to 80% of terrestrial biodiversity and more than 1.6 billion people depend on forests for food, medicines and fuel.1
When forests are cleared, burned or degraded, they become a source of carbon emissions. In fact, it’s estimated that deforestation contributes an incredible 15% of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.2 This is more than the entire global transport sector. We cannot solve the problem of climate change without eliminating deforestation.
Most deforestation occurs when forests are cleared to grow palm oil or soy, to raise cattle or to harvest timber for the paper and pulp industries. Demand for these commodities is soaring as the global population rises and incomes increase. It’s predicted that there will be over 9 billion people on the planet by 2050 and 60% more food will need to be produced.
The international community has set ambitious goals to protect forests. The New York Declaration on Forests, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement all call for substantial improvements in forest trends by 2020. These commitments are built on private sector commitments made over the last few years. Many leading companies have made significant progress in understanding and mitigating their supply chain impacts. To date, 447 companies have made 760 commitments to reduce or eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. These constitute a powerful market signal to the rest of the global commodities sector.
Unfortunately, despite these commitments, the planet continues to lose forest at an unprecedented rate. The loss is driven by both an increase in catastrophic forest fires, and continued expansion of land for agriculture. These underlying trends are expected to worsen in the coming decades.
hectares of global tree cover loss in 2016. This equates to an area about the size of New Zealand.
higher than in 2015.
It’s clear that we must re-double our efforts with urgency and ambition. Both public and private sector action, and the support of civil society, is needed to enable us to produce more food, and protect forests and those whose livelihoods depend on them. We cannot succeed if we do one without the other.
Our goal: zero net deforestation by 2020
In 2010, together with other organisations in our industry, we committed to achieving zero net deforestation (PDF | 167KB) associated with four commodities (palm oil, soy, paper and board (PDF | 222KB) and beef) that are major causes of large-scale deforestation, no later than 2020.
We’re especially focused on breaking the link between palm oil production and deforestation. As the world’s largest single buyer of palm oil – 3% of global production each year – we have the scale to make a difference through our actions. We also buy 1% of all soy produced each year. But equally, this shows the extent of the change needed to transform these entire supply chain systems.
We’re taking three main steps to eliminate deforestation from agricultural commodity supply chains and to make sure we maintain affordable access to sustainably produced supplies of these commodities for the long-term. These are:
- Transforming our own supply chains: making sure the palm oil, soy, paper and board (PDF | 222KB), beef and tea we buy is both traceable and certified as sustainable.
- Encouraging the whole industry: it’s possible to stop large-scale deforestation while increasing food production and improving livelihoods for smallholder farmers through better agricultural practices. We’re encouraging the entire industry, including growers, traders, manufacturers and retailers to set and meet high standards, extending beyond current certification schemes.
- Working with governments and other partners: ensuring that tackling deforestation gets the political attention and financial resources it needs and deserves as a critical component of our response to climate change. In particular, we are focused on helping catalyse transformative change at the landscape or jurisdictional level in key regions of South-East Asia, South America, and West and Central Africa; and on ensuring – through our networks and relationships – that large-scale, performance-based payments for emissions reductions from forests are available to tropical forest countries.
Creating a movement for change
Deforestation is a complex issue, and one that isn’t going to be solved by companies acting alone. So, since making our commitment to zero net deforestation, we’ve increased our work with industry partners, governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), advocating for change across the entire tropical forest commodities sector. It’s only through the transformation of each commodity’s value chain and the adoption of sustainable farming practices, that commodity-driven deforestation is likely to end.
Over 90% of globally traded palm oil is now covered by no-deforestation pledges but these promises must be turned into action. And that requires transformational systems change across the palm oil value chain. As a step towards this, in 2015 we joined with Marks & Spencer and declared our joint intention to prioritise sourcing from countries or regions that have adequate ‘no-deforestation’ policies in place. This will enable agricultural production and human development goals to be achieved side by side while protecting the environment and communities.
We’re focusing now on developing partnerships which demonstrate the success of this approach, such as our work with INOBU – and Indonesian NGO and the district government of Kotawaringin Barat in Central Kalimantan, to take a ‘village-by-village’ approach to certifying palm oil smallholder farmers.
Part of the challenge of ‘production, protection, inclusion’ approaches is that capital incentives for transforming forest land into agriculture are very high, while the business case for preserving forests is weak.
During the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos in January 2017, the &Green Fund was announced to kick-start investments in deforestation-free agriculture in countries that are working to reduce deforestation and peat degradation – with Unilever as the first corporate investor.
The Fund aims to protect over five million hectares of forest and peatlands by 2020, by de-risking private capital investments into large-scale deforestation-free production, protection and inclusion initiatives. With a capitalisation goal of $400 million by 2020 and an aim to trigger $1.6 billion in private capital investments, this Fund is an exciting opportunity to jointly shape solutions to mitigate deforestation.
We are members of many multi-stakeholder groups working to halt deforestation. These include the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020), which was brought about by the Consumer Goods Forum commitment to mobilise resources to help its members achieve zero net deforestation by 2020. TFA 2020 includes the governments of both tropical forest and donor/consumer countries, NGOs, representatives of indigenous people, and businesses spanning the commodity supply chains.
We are represented on the steering group of the companies behind the Statement of Support for the objectives of the Cerrado Manifesto (PDF | 40KB). Signatories of this initiative are committed to working with local and international stakeholders to halve deforestation and native vegetation loss in the Cerrado.
We also support Global Forest Watch, a World Resources Institute initiative that provides an online forest monitoring and alert system. This empowers people everywhere to get involved in protecting forests.
1 United Nations, Forests: Action statements and action plans, 2014. http://www.un.org/climatechange/summit/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2014/07/New-York-Declaration-on-Forest-%E2%80%93-Action-Statement-and-Action-Plan.pdf.
2 World Wildlife Fund: https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation.