How zero deforestation became a global goal

Rainforest deforestation is a major contributor to global climate change.
Rainforest deforestation is a major contributor to global climate change.

This article originally appeared at Business Green.

Having been seen — unfairly — as an issue mainly of interest to conservationists, 2014 saw deforestation become firmly established as a business priority.

Although some companies already had identified the threat of illegal logging to their operations, supply chain and brand, September's New York Declaration on deforestation acted as a lightning rod to bring like-minded businesses together and attract the attention of a global audience.

Simply put, the declaration saw hundreds of governments, businesses, NGOs and indigenous peoples' groups jointly pledge to halve the loss of forests by the end of the decade and halt it entirely 10 years after that. If this ambition is achieved, it could avoid between 4.5 million and 8.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, equivalent to removing 1 billion cars from the roads.

The same week, Norway committed $300 million towards protecting Peru's rainforests and teamed up with the U.K. and Germany to push for large economic incentives under the U.N.'s REDD+ program in next year's Paris negotiations. In December, a man even filmed himself being eaten by a snake to highlight the issue — although, as it turned out, he didn't get very far.

But while government commitments were welcomed, the really significant progress came from the number of businesses setting a zero deforestation target. Asia Pulp and Paper previously had performed arguably the most eye-catching volte-face in renouncing rainforest clearances and has continued to push for greater action, while 19 leading companies, including Kellogg's, L'Oreal, Danone, Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme, pledged to source 100 percent deforestation-free palm oil for their products this year. A host of others pledged to source sustainable palm oil or extended forest-related commitments to commodities such as sugar, soy, cattle and cocoa.

Around 90 percent of companies surveyed by the investor-backed CDP group recognize the commercial opportunities associated with shifting to sustainably sourced commodities, which range from building brand authority to improved customer relations and reduced supply chain risk.

With the Paris climate talks on the horizon, emissions reduction efforts are likely to dominate the green business headlines in 2015. But it is on deforestation that the global community appears better positioned to deliver significant progress. And no one else will need to get swallowed by a snake to make zero deforestation a reality.