From the Editors
The Ecosystem Marketplace's Forest Carbon News
Tracking Terrestrial Carbon
What do a hamburger, a chicken nugget, a tube of toothpaste, and a cardboard box have in common? They're all products that are likely connected to tropical deforestation.
About three-quarters of all tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2012 was caused by commercial agriculture for major crops such as beef (that hamburger), soy (used in chicken feed), and palm oil (which makes its way into toothpaste and countless other products), according to a new report by Forest Trends. The 'conversion timber' – the trees cut down as a forest is converted to other land uses– is often used in packaging materials.
Nearly half (49%) of tropical deforestation since the turn of the millennium has been due to illegal land conversion, the report finds. Illegal activity takes on many forms. In Brazil, for instance, organized land grabbers cleared swaths of the Amazon and then took advantage of government programs that grant land titles after the fact. In Cambodia, a rubber company was issued a land concession five times the size allowed by law, with more than half of the land area falling within a national park. In Tanzania, a jatropha company fudged the authorship of an environmental impact assessment and convinced villagers to sign documents they didn't fully understand.
Illegal deforestation is a topic that has often been brushed under the rug, but it's essential to address, the report argues, in part because of its scale.
"There is a lot of policy work and research and meetings and discussions that have been happening over the past two, three, four years regarding commercial agriculture and these commodities as a driver of deforestation, but the legality point has been almost non-existent within those debates," says Sam Lawson, the lead author of the study.
Existing efforts to address global deforestation, such as the United Nations-backed program for developed countries to pay developing ones to reduce emissions from deforestation (REDD), are undermined by rampant illicit activity. Voluntary "zero deforestation" commitments by companies such as pulp giant Asia Pulp and Paper and palm oil trader Wilmar are also less meaningful when their pledges focus only on future deforestation, since illegally cleared land can continue to yield products such as soy and palm for decades, Lawson says. And as long as illegal activity goes unpoliced in so many places, there will always be companies willing to take the path of least resistance.
"One of the ways of getting ahead of the curve on agricultural commodities is if you learn the lessons of what took the timber community 20 or 30 years to realize – that you need regulation at the consumer country level rather than just voluntary policies, and you may need to look at legality instead of sustainability," Lawson says.
The report, Consumer Goods and Deforestation: An Analysis of the Extent and Nature of Illegality in Forest Conversion for Agriculture and Timber Plantations, can be downloaded here. Its findings have already echoed around the world through news coverage in The Guardian, Le Monde, Deutsche Welle, De Zeit, BBC, and The Wall Street Journal.
More stories from the Forest Carbon Marketplace are summarized below, so keep reading!
—The Ecosystem Marketplace Team
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