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Definition, Focus, Accountability Needed to Turn Deforestation Commitments Into Action

In its new position paper published today, ***Halting Deforestation and Achieving Sustainability***, the Rainforest Alliance addresses the recent surge in deforestation-free pledges. Timed to coincide with an Innovation Forum event in Washington, DC on “How Business Can Tackle Deforestation,” the paper argues the deforestation-free trend is an exciting development, but needs definition, focus, and accountability to deliver lasting benefits for forests, people and the planet.

A growing number of companies that source wood and agricultural products are announcing they will eliminate deforestation from their supply chains, through individual statements, and/or by joining collective pledges such as the New York Declaration on Forests or the Consumer Goods Forum.

While such announcements are welcome, the Rainforest Alliance position paper points out that tackling deforestation is a complex problem that requires long-term solutions and entails many interlinked sustainability issues, including non-forest ecosystems, water resources, and community and worker rights. Many deforestation-free pledges currently lack the public accountability that independent standards and third-party verification offer, for example through certification programs such as the Forest Stewardship Council.

“The deforestation-free trend is valuable and exciting,” said Rainforest Alliance president Tensie Whelan. “But we don’t yet have an agreed framework for turning this important objective into reality. Deforestation-free is not the same as no trees being cut, though consumers might interpret it that way. A great tagline doesn’t equal a great strategy for change. Defining, implementing and evaluating deforestation-free pledges is essential so that society can judge whether companies and governments are actually slowing deforestation.”

The Rainforest Alliance position paper identifies five pillars of success to build the bridge from deforestation-free declarations to long-term gains for forests, people, and sustainability. These include clarifying definitions of deforestation-free that are rigorous yet realistic; addressing other critical risks and impacts of commodity production; increasing the productivity and efficiency of existing croplands; effectively governing forests and other natural resources; and restoring degraded lands to productivity and health.

Case in point: In February, Rainforest Alliance released an evaluation of Asia Pulp & Paper’s (APP) progress on its 2013 zero-deforestation commitment, and found what the NGO called “moderate progress” on the company’s goals to preserve High Conservation Value (HCV) and High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests. Shortly after announcing the commitment in 2013, APP approached Rainforest Alliance to conduct an independent evaluation of its progress to meet the four commitments outlined in the Policy. The investigation, which involved over eight months of field observation and interviews at concessions in Indonesia, Sumatra and Borneo, concluded that, though many building blocks have been laid, there are significant gaps in implementation.


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