Six months ago, I welcomed the announcement that Wilmar International – the world’s largest trader of palm oil – had pledged to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain. Since such voluntary actions, while important, aren’t enough to save the world’s remaining tropical forests, I was hoping that companies that grow, process, trade, and use commodities that have traditionally replaced forests with plantations and pastures would jointly press governments to step up their support for REDD+, the performance-based program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. “Lining up key industry players behind an agenda for change would be a big deal indeed,” I wrote.
Yesterday part of my wish came true. The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) – which represents some 400 manufacturers and retailers across 70 countries—issued a statement in which the firms not only repeated their pledges to continue efforts to put their own houses in order but also called upon governments to act:
In the run up to the UN Paris Climate Summit in 2015, we invite heads of state to engage and act with determination, leadership and ambition to secure an ambitious and legally binding global climate deal.
We urge governments to make United Nations REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) a priority for supporting appropriate local and national policies that protect forests and support livelihoods.(italics added)
Paul Polman, co-sponsor of the Forum’s Sustainability Pillar and CEO of Unilever, noted that the call to governments comes one year before Paris hosts the UN’s Climate Summit.
“That summit will offer another chance for leaders across the world to act decisively to combat climate change,” he said. “While we at The Consumer Goods Forum have a clear role to play in creating a more sustainable future, we need to draw upon and work in partnership with governments and civil society to transform markets at scale, and within the framework of an accepted and enforced global climate deal that implements the appropriate elements of REDD+.”
It’s clear that Polman (winner of CGD’s 2013 Commitment to Development Award) and other corporate leaders who belong to the CGF understand that their ability to meet their no-deforestation commitments will depend critically on actions by governments, and that REDD+ provides a way for rich countries to incentivize such action in forest countries in ways that are complementary to, and even synergistic with, voluntary efforts by supply chain actors.
There’s still plenty to be done to convince more companies and their various federations and associations – particularly those on the producer end of supply chains -- to deploy their considerable lobbying might on behalf of REDD+ and other sensible climate action. For now, three cheers for the Consumer Goods Forum and its 400 member companies for speaking up on behalf of a plan that’s good for development and for the forests on which so many people in the developing world depend.