Partnering to End Commodity-Driven Tropical Deforestation

Last week, I joined Senior Advisor to the President, Valerie Jarrett, to lead a meeting with CEOs and top executives from global consumer companies, including Unilever, Nestle, Walmart, Coca-Cola and others.  We gathered to discuss strategies for how we can work together to improve the environmental sustainability of supply chains for top companies.  Nancy Sutley, Gayle Smith, USAID Administrator Raj Shah, Drew O’Brien, State Department Representative for Global Partnerships, and I joined the discussion on these companies’ notable efforts to reduce their impacts on global deforestation and reduce their contribution to climate change, while continuing to preserve their bottom line and their status as global market-makers.

These companies recognize that we can make our planet safer and cleaner while still growing the economy and creating good jobs. In the last 3 ½ years, as we have promoted energy efficiency, improved the fuel economy of our cars and trucks, and incentivized renewable energy, the U.S. private sector has created 7.8 million jobs. A climate-resilient, low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come.  As we continue to support growth and prosperity around the world, we must remain good global stewards and ensure that we’re leaving a cleaner and healthier planet for our children. We discussed with the CEOs how we are advancing that goal through an innovative public-private partnership included in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan – the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020.

Tropical deforestation and forest degradation account for about 17 percent of global greenhouse gas pollution that contributes to climate change every single year. Estimates suggest that nearly half of this pollution can be traced back to unsustainable production of four commodities: beef, soy, palm oil, and pulp and paper.  The United States is partnering with other governments, civil society groups, and private companies that are members of the Consumer Goods Forum (a network of over 400 companies representing $3 trillion in global sales) to form the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020.  The partnership has set an ambitious goal of ending tropical deforestation associated with these four key commodities.

Reaching this ambitious goal will only be possible by leveraging our investments and harnessing the innovation and expertise of civil society groups and the private sector.   As part of the partnership, USAID is working with the World Resources Institute to develop a tropical forest monitoring tool that tracks in real-time where commodity expansion is causing tropical forest destruction.  Every dollar USAID invested in this tool leveraged more than $10 from private sector partners such as Google and Staples.  

The United States is taking significant actions to lead international efforts to address climate change. In November, the United States joined the United Kingdom and Norway to announce the Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes, housed under the BioCarbon Fund, which will work with private-sector partners to invest in programs that advance sustainable land management and promote forest protection and climate-smart agriculture.

Ending deforestation associated with beef, soy, palm oil, and pulp and paper will only be possible with collective action from governments, the private sector, and civil society groups.  We commend the Consumer Goods Forum for their pledge to help achieve net zero deforestation by 2020. We’re proud to partner with these companies, who recognize that taking action to prevent tropical deforestation is not only a critical part of protecting our climate and our ecosystems, but is simply good for business.

To learn more, visit www.tfa2020.com and http://www.state.gov/e/oes/climate/index.htm.

Dan Utech is Director for Energy and Climate Change at the White House Domestic Policy Council
Related Topics: Energy and Environment
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