Illegal deforestation and the flawed focus on corporate voluntary actions


Oil palm conversion in a planned National Park in Sarawak, Malaysia

A new essay by Earthsight’s Director, Sam Lawson, was published this month as part of a major report by the European Tropical Forest Research Network (ETFRN) regarding the ‘zero deforestation’ movement.

In the new piece, he argues that the voluntary corporate deforestation “movement” has created so much positive press that it may have given high-level decision makers the mistaken impression that tropical deforestation is on its way to being solved. Yet this could hardly be farther from the truth.

Globally, the problem is getting worse, not better, and corporate zero deforestation commitments may actually be distracting attention from other actions that could have greater impacts.

The piece outlines how the voluntary corporate focus has both technical and fundamental flaws, and argues that “private-sector promises can’t halt deforestation. Only governments can.” Among other things, it stresses that these voluntary pledges fail to take full account of the scale of illegal agro-deforestation, and that they involve companies giving effective ‘amnesties’ for past illegal deforestation for which they have no mandate. 

It lays into the numerous platforms created to supposedly ‘monitor’ these pledges as largely meaningless, given a lack of transparency of the most crucial supply chain information: information on the land leases from which products are being sourced. Yet it argues that even if there was meaningful transparency and all such commitments were fully implemented, the voluntary corporate approach will still be undermined by ‘bad apples’ and the constraints of poor governance in source countries.

To be certain of having net positive impacts, Mr Lawson says, the movement for voluntary corporate zero deforestation must “address its technical flaws, recognize its fundamental limitations, and throw its weight behind necessary actions by producer and consumer country governments.”

The full article can be accessed here.

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