Cattle farming forgotten in fight against deforestation

3rd November 2016

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Christopher People

Only 12% of businesses that source beef and leather products have commitments in place to tackle deforestation caused by cattle farming in their supply chains, according to a new report.

Campaign groups, think-tanks and academics have come together to assess progress against the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF), which saw 190 national and regional governments, businesses, NGOs and indigenous groups pledge to halve natural forest loss by 2020 and end it by 2030.

Their progress report focuses on the commitment by companies to eliminate deforestation from the production of agricultural commodities such as palm oil, soy, paper and beef products by 2020.

It found that almost all assessed companies had put the pledge into action, with 84%-87% of firms having identified if and where their operations put forests at risk.

Most companies – 56%-70% of producers, processors and trades and 64%-87% of retailers and manufacturers – had established rules about how goods are produced and sourced that are in line with their commitments.

However, the researchers found that progress had been too gradual, and commitments piecemeal. Nearly all commitments address only one commodity or a specific geography, while just 43 (10%) of the 415 firms that had made commitments setting company-wide targets cover all the commodities they use.

Nearly 60% of firms that source or produce palm oil and 53% of those using timber have made commodity-specific commitments. For soy (21%) and cattle (12%), the proportion of companies with commitments was found to be considerably lower, however.

Cattle have a deforestation footprint nine times larger than the one associated with palm oil, according to the report. Charlotte Streck, co-founder and director of Climate Focus, a think tank that led the research, said that it was difficult for the sector to make commitments as cows change hands multiple times over their lifespans. Tracing deforestation to the specific animal is a major challenge, she noted.

Where certification is available and tested, most companies use it as a strategy for sourcing sustainable goods. However, although increasing certified production and sourcing has been good for wood products and palm oil, it has been less so for soy and beef, the research found.

‘What we now need, if forests and the climate are to be saved, is action on commodities with the biggest forest impacts, and an increase in partnerships between companies and governments, and among retailers, traders and producers that pool resources to save forests,’ Streck said.

If action was not speeded up, there is a risk that supply chains may only become deforestation-free once forests were gone, she added.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Most companies that announced commitments are manufacturers and retailers, with almost 90% based in Europe, North America, or Australia.
  • Firms operating upstream in the supply chain (producers, processers, and traders) and those based in Latin America, Africa, and Asia had been slower to act. However, researchers believe this is starting to change. More producer companies, particularly those involved in palm oil in Southeast Asia, were making pledges, they found.
  • More than 90% of the assessed companies source or produce in deforestation hotspots (Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Paraguay). Companies producing or sourcing from these areas are more advanced in implementing their commitments than those with less exposure to these regions.

Organisations contributing to the report include the CDP, Climate Focus, Environmental Defense Fund, Forest Trends, Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, Global Canopy Programme, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Rainforest Alliance, Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), and the World Resources Institute.


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