Eliminating deforestation

We aim to work with others to eliminate deforestation from the world’s commodity supply chains, tackling the climate change threat and helping to deliver SDG 15 Life on Land.

2015 was an important milestone in the fight to eliminate deforestation. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out an explicit target on halting deforestation. The Paris climate agreement acknowledged the vital role that forests play in combating climate change.

Deforestation contributes up to 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The principal driver of deforestation is commercial agriculture, fuelled by growing populations with increasing incomes, which have sent demand for key commodities soaring. Yet forests are essential for life. They sustain the livelihoods of 1.6 billion people who depend on them for food, medicines and fuel. They are also the lungs of our planet and help to regulate our climate.

Together with others in our industry, we have committed to achieving zero net deforestation associated with four commodities – palm oil, soy, paper and board, and beef – no later than 2020. We have extended this commitment to our tea businesses and supply chains.

Our particular focus is on palm oil sourcing, where we have the scale to make a difference. As the world’s largest single buyer of palm oil, Unilever cannot countenance this essential commodity being a source of deforestation and exploitation. Our key business objective is therefore to assure that we have affordable access to sustainably sourced palm oil for the long-term.

Our approach

We purchase nearly 3% of the world’s palm oil production and 1% of its soy. This gives us significant influence, but also shows the extent of change needed to transform entire systems of supply. Our approach towards eliminating deforestation therefore has three elements:

  • Transforming our supply chain, so our own purchases are fully traceable and certified sustainable.
  • Encouraging the whole industry to set and meet high standards, extending beyond current certification schemes and involving growers, traders, manufacturers and retailers.
  • Working with governments and other partners to embed no-deforestation pledges into national and international policies.

We believe large-scale deforestation can be prevented while food production can be increased through better agricultural practices. The highest priority for the industry must be to ensure that high conservation value forests, those with high carbon stocks, and tropical forests on peat soils are conserved. Yields from smallholder farmers can be improved, along with their livelihoods, and we are working with partners towards fundamental change here too.

Momentum is now building. We have encouraged other consumer goods companies on their deforestation commitments through collaborations such as the Consumers Goods Forum, Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 and the New York Declaration on Forests.

Over 90% of globally traded palm oil is now covered by no-deforestation pledges. The challenge is to turn those promises into action, and that requires a transformational change in global systems. As a step towards this we have joined with Marks & Spencer and declared our intention to move towards preferentially sourcing from jurisdictions that have adequate ‘no deforestation’ policies in place, which increases production and protects the environment and communities. This enables agricultural production and human development goals to be achieved side by side. Our focus is to develop some concrete partnerships which demonstrate the success of this approach.

Our advocacy objectives

Our advocacy objectives are three-fold:

  • Through the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 we will help to catalyse transformative change at the landscape level in key regions of Indonesia, South America and West Africa.
  • To use our networks and relationships to ensure that large-scale, performance-based payments for emissions reductions from forests are available to tropical forest countries, as part of a new climate agreement.
  • To mainstream sustainable palm oil by aligning the changes underway so that a viable new global palm oil standard can be adopted.

Our principal partnerships

The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020

The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020) was brought about by the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) commitment to mobilise resources within its respective businesses to help achieve zero net deforestation by 2020. The Alliance includes IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative, Rainforest Alliance, WWF and many others.

Global Forest Watch

Global Forest Watch is a World Resources Institute initiative that provides a dynamic online forest monitoring and alert system which empowers people everywhere to manage forests better. We are stepping up our engagement with consumers on this agenda, both through our own programmes and via our partnerships.

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