Have we got our priorities backwards?
You’d expect that corporate priorities, as shown by their pledges to eliminate deforestation, should reflect the relative importance of these four drivers, at least approximately. But Climate Focus found that in fact, it’s the opposite. This is the percentage of active companies that have made pledges concerning each of these four drivers:
So, it’s not just that the percentage of commitments doesn’t reflect the importance of the drivers. It actually reverses them. The more important a commodity is, the less likely that a company will have pledged to eliminate the deforestation that it’s causing. We’re just three years away from the Declaration’s deadline, but only one out of eight corporations have even stated a pledge to reach that 2020 goal for what is the largest driver of deforestation by far.
The Climate Focus report goes into more depth about this, but in all honesty, and in a self-critical spirit, I have to admit that one reason that companies have emphasised palm oil and wood is that we NGOs have pushed them the hardest on those commodities. And the ‘we’ here includes UCS, and me personally during most of the time that I directed UCS’ Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative (2007-2015).
Sure, we had good strategic reasons to focus on palm oil. Some of these were based on data – palm oil was growing rapidly in terms of global consumption, and was linked to the tropical peat clearance that releases large amounts of global warming pollution.
Other reasons were more emotional – we could see that orang utan, which are threatened by the expansion of oil palm plantations, are incredibly cute and charismatic. But the end result was that we concentrated on getting corporate zero-deforestation commitments relating to crops that weren’t the main causes of deforestation.
In the last year, UCS has changed the emphasis of its zero-deforestation campaigning to beef cattle and soybean, and I’ve helped by pointing out its overwhelming importance in other reports that I’ve written. But looking backward, even though the companies can’t escape their fundamental responsibility for their own actions, pledges and priorities, we in the NGO community should have done better too.