Deforestation: A global problem in need of a global solution

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Aida Greenbury of Asia Pulp and Paper calls for more governments and businesses to formally adopt zero deforestation policies

The zero-deforestation movement has reached a critical crossroads. A huge amount of positive progress has been made in the past couple of years; since we announced our own zero-deforestation policy in February 2013 we have seen many other large companies follow suit, such as Wilmar, McDonalds and Johnson & Johnson. In addition, global events, including the New York Declaration on Forests and this year's Bonn Challenge, a global effort to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land around the world by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030, have helped to maintain the momentum of the debate.

However, we now face a situation where well-intentioned policy needs to be translated into physical implementation on the ground. There is no getting away from the fact that implementing a zero-deforestation policy is a hugely challenging undertaking. From our own perspective we are more than two years into our journey, have invested over $120m to implement our zero-deforestation policy and landscape approach and while we have made a huge amount of progress we have also faced significant hurdles.

However, as Unilever's Paul Polman has said, addressing climate change is expensive, but not doing anything to address it would be catastrophic. Although companies in producing countries, normally based in developing economies, have been at the forefront of practical action, addressing the problems caused by deforestation cannot be the sole responsibility of these businesses and their governments. Climate change is a global issue and deforestation has been driven over many decades by global business and consumer behaviour. Now is the time for all of us to play our part and take real action.

Of course businesses such as APP, managing natural resources on the ground, have faced pressure to change the way they manage those resources, and rightly so, but if we are to make the necessary impact in ending deforestation and addressing climate change the responsibility for fixing the problem must be one shouldered by the global community. I include in this, businesses operating in all corners of the globe, governments and consumers, who through their purchasing decisions can play a major role in driving positive change. Of course, civil society also has a critical role to play in supporting the transformation required.

So, in practical terms, what action is needed?

We have identified a number of areas where greater collaboration and support is needed.

Firstly, we would like to see more governments and businesses, including community-based enterprises, adopting zero-deforestation policies as well as commitments to landscape-scale forest conservation. For success, scale is required, as is greater multi-stakeholder collaboration.

Secondly, we want to see more practical involvement from businesses across the supply chain to help understand the issues and be a part of the conversation, and ultimately, the solution. Implementing a zero-deforestation policy is a positive step but businesses everywhere must remember that it is only the first step. Business leaders now need to fully understand the dynamics of the entire supply chain and play a part in ensuring we extinguish the practice of deforestation everywhere, preserving what's left of the world's natural forests. Adopting a zero deforestation policy and talking about it is not enough. We need to effectively implement these policies in the forest while at the same time ensuring we prioritise and support the procurement of responsible material across the supply chain.

Finally, the legacy of deforestation needs to be tackled through comprehensive landscape-level conservation and restoration. We would like to see greater levels of investment and financing from the international community. To date, global attempts to develop a functional financing mechanism for forestry have yet to yield concrete results. Billions have been pledged, but too little of this money is making a sustained impact on the ground. Obviously a clearer financing mechanism is needed and I hope Indonesia can take a lead on this. However, financing large, landscape-scale conversation programmes also requires substantial, broad-based funding as well as strong multi-stakeholder collaboration.

My strong belief is that natural forest conservation and restoration is an unarguable win-win - a win for forestry-dependent businesses; a win for the communities that live in and depend on the forest; a win for big brands and customers because of the massive increase in zero-deforestation policies; and a win for the planet in reducing emissions and increasing biodiversity.

Ultimately, if we are truly committed to solving these environmental issues it is now the responsibility of society globally, including those who have benefited from deforestation in the past, to come together and be a part of the solution.

Aida Greenbury is managing director sustainability for Asia Pulp and Paper

This article is part of BusinessGreen's Zero Deforestation Hub, hosted in association with APP.

BusinessGreen and APP will undertake a Twitter debate on how to make zero deforestation a reality at 2:30pm BST on Tuesday June 30th. Readers can join the debate alongside representatives from Greenpeace, The Forest Trust, Unilever and CDP.

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