19 January 2019 | In his 1974 book Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the late American philosopher Robert Persig described periods of “lateral drift,” which most of us enter at some point, after realizing that the beliefs and premises we’ve been taught don’t always match our experiences. Lateral drift brought Persig into a “far orbit of the mind” that seemed unproductive at the time, but which set the stage for periods of fervent activity.
Something similar is happening in the “Zero-Deforestation Supply Chain Movement,” which is a key component of the global effort to end climate change, and next week’s Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) could provide the impetus for moving beyond lateral drift into fervent activity.
First, some background: the supply chain movement merged almost ten years ago, when hundreds of leading companies pledged to reduce their impact on forests by changing the way they produce, procure, and process commodities. Since then, scores of companies have dramatically reduced their individual impact on forests, but overall rates of deforestation are continuing to rise as bad actors step into forests that more sustainably-minded organizations have spared.
While failing to end deforestation, the supply chain movement has catalyzed a complete restructuring of global supply chains for cattle, soy, palm oil and pulp & paper – the “big four” commodities responsible for most of the world’s deforestation, which in turn generates almost 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions.
The supply chains of these and other commodities are now more transparent than they were just five years ago, and that makes it easier than ever to reward good actors while purging bad ones.
What’s been missing is the will to execute that purge, but the WEF’s most recent Global Risks Report shows where that will can come from. Business leaders, it turns out, see climate change as the single greatest threat to prosperity, and they have the clout to address it. The question is: will they muster the courage?
The supply chain movement began germinating after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, after it became clear that deforestation was generating a massive amount of the world’s greenhouse gasses. In 1993, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) emerged to promote sustainable pulp & paper harvesting, but deforestation continued to surge as forests were cleared to meet our ravenous appetites for other commodities.
Responses varied from commodity-to-commodity and region-to-region. Palm oil, for example, was the main driver in Malaysia and Indonesia, where a consortium of NGOs and industry groups formed the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2004 to promote sustainable palm oil. Cattle and soy were the drivers in the Amazon region, where NGOs took a more aggressive approach. In 2006, NGOs pressured consumer-facing companies in the United States and Europe, as well as exporters in Brazil, to sign a Soy Moratorium that ended purchases of soy from farmers who’d recently chopped forest to expand production. In 2009, Greenpeace began publicly attacking consumer-facing companies that purchased deforestation-related cattle products from the Amazon region.
The first large-scale deforestation commitment came in 2010, when the 400 companies comprising the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) passed a resolution to achieve zero net deforestation within its sphere of influence by 2020. The companies quickly realized they couldn’t achieve the goals without broader support from governments and NGOs, so CGF and the US government launched the Tropical Forest Alliance in 2012 to include these sectors, and eventually christened it “TFA2020” to emphasize the target year.
In 2014, UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon launched the New York Declaration on Forests, which is a cluster of ten pledges to cut the global rate of deforestation in half by 2020, and to end it by 2030 while restoring hundreds of millions of acres of degraded land.
Last year, TFA2020 hired environmental consultancy Climate Focus to evaluate the impact that these myriad supply chain efforts had on deforestation, and Climate Focus in turn contracted Ecosystem Marketplace publisher Forest Trends to support that effort. We interviewed scores of people active in commodity supply chains – from smallholder farmers to chief executives to environmental NGOs – and published the findings in a report called “Impacts of Supply Chain Commitments on the Forest Frontier.”
The findings are
Consumer-facing companies like Mars and Marks & Spencer rarely grow their own cacao or raise their own cattle. Instead, they buy from hundreds of millions of ranchers, farmers, and fishermen scattered around the world.
When they sign onto something like the NYDF, the good ones will then look for ways to meet their commitments – sometimes by purchasing only commodities certified under something like the RSPO, but other times by mapping their entire supply chains to see which traders they can trust. At that point, they usually examine three strategies: move forward by avoiding purchases from high-deforestation areas, help suppliers improve their practices, and/or look for alternate materials.
If you’re curious about individual corporate strategies, the Forest Trends Supply-Change initiative tracks both corporate strategies and reported progress.
The supply chain movement is largely driven by consumer demand, and environmental NGOs have spent decades educating consumers in North America, Europe, and Australia, on the need for sustainable practices and outing bad actors. As a result, almost 90 percent of the companies with deforestation commitments are based in these three regions.
Unfortunately, these three regions aren’t where the demand is. China is the world’s largest importer of both soy and pulp & paper products, while India is the world’s largest importer of palm oil, and much of Brazil’s beef is consumed domestically. This is why global supply chains have separated, like vinegar and oil, with some segments becoming transparent and sustainable, and others operating in the shadows. It’s no coincidence, for example, that RSPO certification applies to 19 percent of the world’s palm oil, roughly the amount that is exported to Europe and the United States.
This clear bifurcation is, obviously, an oversimplification, as many companies are somewhere in the middle – especially since RSPO certifies plantations rather than entire operations. This enables companies to join the organization without putting their whole network under a microscope, but that in turn means more scrutiny.
Environmental research group AidEnvironment, for example, found that RSPO member Indofood was using shell companies to deforest in Borneo’s Ketungau peat swamp to make way for future oil palm plantations, and an earlier investigation showed that Malaysian palm oil giant, Felda Global Ventures (FGV), had violated Indonesia’s peat moratorium and Malaysian labor laws. More prominently, Greenpeace last year published two reports documenting systematic deforestation being undertaken by companies associated with RSPO members and companies with supply chain commitments. In each of these cases, the NGOs used a dual approach – filing formal complaints with the RSPO while aggressively campaigning to force action.
While consumer demand is great, most executives will concede that, ultimately, governments must step up with minimum standards that are high enough to save forests, and a majority of delegates to last year’s annual TFA2020 meeting in Accra, Ghana, called for just that.
This is where the WEF can help, too.
Business leaders have clearly identified climate change as the greatest threat of our day, and the theme of next week’s meeting is “Globalization 4.0,” which WEF founder Klaus Schwab describes as an effort to build a new “shared future” akin to that forged in the wake of World War II.
The supply chain movement has created the transparency and tested the methods of ending deforestation, but lateral drift needs to give way to fervent activity. That’s the only way to blend oil and vinegar.
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18 January 2019 | UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged Member States to do their best to make September 2019 a defining moment for stopping runaway climate change, achieving the SDGs and building a fair globalization. Addressing the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in a briefing at the start of 2019, Guterres reflected on the UN’s achievements in 2018, and outlined priorities for the coming year.
The briefing came one day after UNGA President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés outlined similar priorities for the remainder of the 73rd UNGA session.
Guterres told delegations that the UN had made a difference in 2018 in the areas of: the search for peace diplomacy in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Liberia and Armenia; the adoption of the Paris Agreement Work Programme during the Katowice Climate Change Conference; and the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and of the Global Compact on Refugees in December 2018.
He noted that work intensified to reach the SDGs, with 102 States having presented Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) so far to assess national-level implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. On humanitarian aid, he reported that approximately US$15 billion coming from country contributions helped reach about 100 million people in need. He also noted that for the first time in the history of the UN, it reached gender parity within the senior management and among the candidates for the position of resident coordinator.
Guterres also highlighted initiatives launched in 2018, including the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative endorsed by 151 countries and four major organizations, and the launch of Youth 2030, the UN’s strategy for working with and for young people. On the UN reforms led by the Secretary-General, he said: the repositioned UN Development System is now in place, including a new Resident Coordinator system and a new generation of Country Teams; the UN peace and security architecture has been fortified to strengthen prevention, mediation, peacekeeping and peacebuilding; and new management capacities, structures and practices, including new levels of transparency, simplification and accountability will underpin these changes and “deeply transform” the UN.
On the work ahead, Guterres stressed the need to accelerate the “surge in diplomacy,” and to strengthen partnerships. He said “there can be never room for hate speech, intolerance or xenophobia,” and called for investing in social cohesion, education, new skills for people to adapt, and safety nets for those that risk to be left behind. He announced that the UN will continue to strengthen its partnership with the African Union (AU) in order to consolidate gains towards peace, adding that lasting peace must be based on a broad consensus of society, “with women as full participants in all peace processes.”
Guterres asked to dramatically accelerate efforts on key 21st-century challenges, namely: the fight against climate change; achieving the SDGs; and stepping up new technologies that can “turbocharge” this work. Further on climate change, he remarked that by 2020, under the Paris Agreement, Member States are meant to assess progress and submit new pledges to meet the goals to which they agreed. In addition, by 2050, net zero global emissions should be reached. On technologies, he indicated that “later in 2019” his High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation will report on proposals for reducing digital inequality, building digital capacity and ensuring that new technologies are on “our side and are a force for good.”
In an interactive discussion, countries highlighted the need to protect and strengthen multilateralism, and welcomed the UN reforms led by the Secretary-General on development, management and peace and security. Many UN Member States also referred to the high-level events that will take place in September 2019 during the UNGA’s annual General Debate, including the UN Climate Summit, the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development, and the ‘SDG Summit.’ They stressed the need to renew and reaffirm commitments towards the 2030 Agenda and combatting climate change.
Thailand for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said the theme of Thailand’s 2019 ASEAN chairmanship is ‘Advancing Partnership for Sustainability,’ and this reinforces the idea that multilateralism should be protected. The EU stressed the importance of universal values, respect for rule of law, promotion of human rights and human dignity, and for a UN that is tailored to new challenges, in line with the UN reforms.
Thanking other countries for their words of comfort and condolences following the terrorist attacks in Kenya on 15 January, Kenya stressed the importance of working closely together to tackle the “global phenomenon” of terrorism. South Africa reported that the relationship between the UN and Africa has strengthened, including through the Joint UN-AU Framework for Enhancing Partnership on Peace and Security, and the AU-UN framework for the implementation of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Referring to challenges with the UN’s financial situation, the US suggested reforming its budget process and improve its ability to better manage resources to deliver on its mandates. Afghanistan stressed the need to find new ways to implement UNGA and UN Security Council resolutions, noting that their implementation “remains weak.”
On climate change, Fiji noted that climate action speaks to all areas of the UN reforms and, if not addressed could be an “extreme threat” to all the SDGs combined. Chile underscored the importance of addressing climate change, and noted that the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP 25) will take place in Santiago.
On efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda, Mexico said his president signed a decree through which all the country’s public and social policies will be inspired by and based on the 2030 Agenda. Colombia said the SDGs are a guide to “administrate globalization” and to ensure the effectiveness of multilateralism, adding that his country has incorporated the 17 SDGs into its domestic policy, and the Goals are considered permanent guidance for public policy in Colombia.
On migrants and refugees, Mexico said his country is the first or second largest corridor in the world for migration, and it will take the Global Compact on Migration as a basis for its legislation and policies. Jordan called on the UN to continue to support countries that host refugees.
This story has been compiled from press releases
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