Our daily lives pose serious threats to tropical forests and ecosystems. When we eat meat or chocolate or when we use toothpaste or apply makeup, we are using products such as soy and palm oil. These commodities require large areas of land – areas for which tropical forest is often cut or valuable grassland is cleared.

This is why we need to get serious about the consumption, production, trade and financing of products that pose a risk to tropical forests. At the fourth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4), deforestation and agricultural commodity supply chains were high on the agenda, thanks to a draft resolution proposed by the EU.

Member States could not come to an agreement on the resolution, but UNEA-4 marked a critical point because it was the first time the topic of deforestation and conversion-free supply chains reached the UN policy level, including specific pathways for governments to engage on the issue.

In a side event organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) titled, ‘Free Your Supply Chain from Deforestation and Conversion: What is Needed Now,’ French Ambassador for the Environment Yann Wehrling called for an international resolution on deforestation-free supply chains and a new coalition against deforestation. The French Government recently launched an ambitious action plan that aims to ban imports of products linked to deforestation.

The private and financial sectors also have an important role to play. Nestlé recently announced a new action plan to help end deforestation and restore forests in its cocoa supply chains in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. A level playing field, higher accountability, strong governance and more engagement of young people is critically needed, said John Bee, Nestlé’s Regional Head of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs, Sub-Saharan Africa.

Ivo Mulder, Head, Land Use Finance Unit, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), called on companies to invest in deforestation-free solutions and increase climate finance and on governments to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. BNP Paribas, for example, has policies in place to prevent it from financing and investing in activities linked to deforestation while leveraging sustainable finance at landscape level, such as in Indonesia through the Tropical Forest Finance Facility, a joint project with BNP Paribas, UNEP and other partners.

“A better integration of forest and agriculture in an emerging reforestation and agroforestry market is needed, as well as regulation to have an operating framework,” said Pierre C. Rousseau, Strategic Advisor, Sustainable Business, BNP Paribas.

One of the most important stakeholders, however, are the indigenous peoples and communities who live in forests and bear the brunt of deforestation.

“Bringing affected communities to the table is critical,” said Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Director, African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD). “It is essential to create space for the voices of women, indigenous peoples and minority groups to contribute as experts on this topic. We need to acknowledge that the 60 million people who live in and depend on forests are already paying the highest costs for conservation of forests, and their investments, in terms of lost livelihoods, need to be recognized.”

The Need for Action

Five years ago, a critical mass of State and non-State actors agreed to take concrete actions to halt natural forest loss by 2020 by signing up to the New York Declaration on Forests. The signatories pledged to eliminate deforestation from agricultural commodity supply chains “by no later than 2020.” This was a critical step as expansion of agricultural land is responsible for an estimated 80% of forest loss in tropical and subtropical regions.

Less than a year away from 2020, forests and other natural ecosystems remain under severe threat. The year 2017 was second-worst for tropical tree cover loss, and habitat loss – including deforestation and forest degradation – is one of the leading causes of nature loss.

“The bottom line is that we are losing an unacceptable amount of nature,” said Marco Lambertini, WWF Director General. “We are failing to really recognize the issue of deforestation at a policy level that is required. It is possible to meet the demands of a growing population while also tackling deforestation.”

Doing this is not just an environmental issue, it is a social issue. Sustainably managing forests and halting and reversing land degradation is a key component of SDG 15 (life on land). The services provided by nature are estimated to be worth USD 125 trillion a year – double the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). Yet more than 75% of Earth’s land areas, including many forest landscapes, are substantially degraded, undermining the well-being of 3.2 billion people.

UNEA-4 was a pivotal moment to create momentum around deforestation-free supply chains, and the EU’s effort to put this issue on the forefront is commendable. But we need to make sure that momentum continues. We need more companies to step up and not just make pledges but turn them into real action on the ground. We also need policymakers to complement private sector actions both on the supply and demand side. Policies can create level playing field for businesses and restore fair competition. Policymakers need to ensure transparent and responsible trade, markets, investments and finance for sustainable commodities. These must include technical and financial support to smallholder producers and the protection of human rights and the interests and rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

An international agreement, a New Deal for People and Nature, is needed to ensure that there is real action and our lifestyle choices are not destroying precious ecosystems.

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This article was written by Hermine Kleymann, Policy Manager, WWF Global Forest Practice.