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5 ways business can help stop current record levels of deforestation

Companies have been promising on deforestation for years but the results are still discouraging. How will businesses really step up?

Tree stumps

Tree stumps in a clear-cut forest field. Deforestation is problem that has become difficult to solve. Image via Shutterstock/Savo Ilic.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon hit an historic high for January with rates nearly five times higher than they were in January 2021. The news is a continuation of a troubling, decade-long trend of increasing deforestation in the region.

This calls into question the commitment made by more than 140 countries, just three months ago at the COP26 climate negotiations, to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. The signing of the Glasgow Leaders Declaration was a long overdue recognition of the stark scientific truth: Nature loss and climate change are inextricably linked and must be tackled together.  

However, this commitment is worth little if it fails to deliver. And just over 100 days in, the lack of progress threatens to completely derail our chances of preventing catastrophic climate change.

Beyond Brazil, oil exploration in 2022 is reaching deep into the Ecuadorian Amazon on the ancestral homelands of indigenous communities. 

And the Democratic Republic of the Congo has missed a key deadline, agreed to at COP26, to publish an audit of logging concessions. Since this was a condition of accessing a potentially game-changing $500 million to be directed towards restoring nature, the country is yet to receive these donor funds.

Of course, change was never going to happen overnight, but these trends are enough to discourage even the most stubborn optimist. While there is still time to turn the tide, it is quickly running short.

But rather than giving up, companies should take this as a call to action. Governments can’t solve the nature loss crisis alone. And with less than eight years left to turn the tide, the race is on. 

Here are 5 was companies can lead the way on deforestation:

1. Cut emissions from nature loss in corporate value chains: This is the top responsibility for any company. Begin by setting a target with the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) and work with your suppliers to rapidly reduce "Scope 3" value chain emissions. If your suppliers don’t have a science-based target, ask them to set one or look to spend your procurement dollars elsewhere. New guidance specifically for food, land and agriculture emissions leaves no excuse not to set a target.

2. Advocate for trade policies to ban commodity driven deforestation: Trade and development policies were a key component of the Glasgow Leaders Declaration, but will only succeed with private sector engagement.

Laws are now under discussion in the U.S., U.K. and EU. To ensure these laws are effective in reducing deforestation, now’s the time for those companies with vast experience and knowledge of tackling deforestation in supply chains — such as those involved in the Forest Positive Coalition — to good use. They can do this by participating in the consultation on the U.K.’s Environment Act, joining the Tropical Forest Alliance’s working group on EU legislation, and joining a forthcoming working group on the U.S. Forest ACT convened by the We Mean Business Coalition, Ceres and the Tropical Forest Alliance. 

Reversing nature loss will require a tripling of investments by 2030, with the private sector carrying a large share of the financial burden.

3. Bring agriculture to the top of the agenda: Agriculture was conspicuously absent from discussions in Glasgow. But tucked away in bullet four of the Glasgow Leaders Declaration is a call to reform our food systems, which are responsible for a third of global emissions. 

Over the past two decades we have seen a dearth of innovation in agriculture compared to the exponential progress made in other sectors such as energy and transportation. Companies can drive radical change in our food systems by purchasing low carbon agricultural commodities, investing in R&D to drive down on-farm emissions, bringing new low carbon, plant-based products to market and incentivizing farmers to lock more carbon into their soil through regenerative agriculture practices.

4. Invest beyond value chains: Reversing nature loss will require a tripling of investments by 2030, with the private sector carrying a large share of the financial burden. Since a significant portion of land-based emissions occur beyond the reach of corporate supply chains, SBTi has made it clear that all companies should go further than their science-based targets by investing in nature-based solutions beyond their operations. These investments are critical to increase our chances of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Initiatives such as the LEAF Coalition are leading the way, committing $1 billion in public and private finance at COP26 to scale up nature-based solutions: this sum needs to increase rapidly in 2022. Joining the LEAF coalition or the Natural Climate Solutions Alliance investment accelerator enables companies to play a credible role in investing beyond their value chains.

5. Hold governments accountable: Companies and civil society will play a critical role in holding governments to account for the commitments made at COP26. Companies should call on all 141 signatories of the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration to ensure their national climate plans (NDCs) are updated ahead of COP27 to include the ambition of reversing forest loss and land degradation by 2030, with detailed explanations of the steps they will take to fulfill those commitments.

Going all in to halve global emissions by 2030 is a global imperative to meet our climate goals, and it won’t happen without addressing nature loss and land degradation. It is due time to for business to mobilize the action needed to reach a net-zero and nature-positive future.  

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