A group of countries led by the United Kingdom and Indonesia say they are launching a new partnership aiming to protect tropical rainforests, meet growing demand for commodities like palm, soy, and timber—widely criticized for their devastating impact on forests—and preserve the livelihoods of growers, Indigenous farmers, and local communities.
The two countries launched the Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) Dialogue and presented their roadmap to participants at the COP 26 climate summit last month.
“The science is clear: there is no path to 1.5°C that does not include forests, land, livelihood, and nature,” said Morgan Gillespy, food and land use coalition director at the World Resources Institute. She was one of several speakers at an event to “unpack” the FACT Roadmap, a joint statement by governments, commodity traders, and other stakeholders. Endorsed by more than two dozen countries including Canada, the roadmap is a commitment to collaboratively halt commodity-driven deforestation and manage critical ecosystems by addressing agricultural supply chains and international trade.. Elements of the plan include:
• Better incentives, understanding, and recognition, and eventually larger market shares, for sustainably produced commodities;
• Financial support and training for smallholder agricultural producers who risk being excluded if they’re unable to meet standards;
• Enable “traceability and transparency” to ensure consumer and investor confidence, improve accountability, and help producers gain access to markets for sustainable commodities;
• Research and innovation to boost productivity as an alternative to deforestation.
Speakers at the COP 26 event cited a number of commodities associated with deforestation, including cattle, cocoa, palm, coffee, timber, rubber, soy, and cotton.
“Nature is the best carbon storage,” said former U.K. prime minister Theresa May, with land use accounting for a quarter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Several speakers stressed that forest protection is not just about climate: it’s about nature and biodiversity, and vulnerable ecosystems like peat marshes and salt marshes also need to be preserved.
Fabiola Muñoz, co-chair of the multistakeholder Tropical Forest Alliance, cited the need for governments to work with Indigenous peoples who have knowledge of the forest and have often lived in them for centuries. (Although several session speakers referenced the need to work with Indigenous peoples, they are conspicuously absent from the FACT Roadmap joint statement.)
Speaking to the roadmap’s focus on incentives for sustainability practices, Indigenous cocoa producer Joseph Itongwa said there must be a willingness to pay small producers for forest conservation, and for growing products like climate-smart cocoa.
Producers are “not reaping the rewards of good stewardship,” added Liberia’s Minister of Agriculture, Jeanine Milly Cooper. The value of ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration, must be financially recognized, she said.
Another threat to Indigenous farmers and local communities from the commodities industry is “land grabbing,” said popular singer Ellie Goulding. She cited a report from one farmer who said that “bulldozers levelled three villages,” leaving people without homes or livelihood. Goulding challenged participants to take immediate action: “We’ve heard this all before,” she said, “people in gatherings like this say the right things, but don’t do enough.”
Five major U.K. supermarkets are trying to do their part, said WWF’s Tanya Steel, describing a signed commitment to source forest-friendly commodities, with the potential to halve the impact of the average shopping basket by 2030. Simon Roberts, CEO of U.K. grocery chain Sainsbury’s, said his firm’s products will be “deforestation-free by 2025.”
Similarly, PepsiCo is now part of a 20-member Forest Positive Coalition of leading retailers and manufacturers—including Loblaws and Egg Farmers of Canada—that aims to be “forest positive” by 2030. Jenny McCulloch, chief sustainability officer for McDonald’s, touted her firm’s 2015 commitment to end deforestation resulting from the products it sells. She said McDonald’s, which feeds 1% of the world’s population daily, is now 99% deforestation-free, and vows to eliminate deforestation across all product lines by 2030.
But a marginal adjustment to business as usual in the supply chain is not enough, said university student Lana Weidgenant of Zero Hour, speaking for youth who are “disappointed and feel betrayed” by the lack of accountability and action. Weidgenant called for the dietary changes outlined in the statement Act for Food, Act for Change.