13 Powerhouse American Companies Have Taken Obama’s New Climat Pledge. What Does It Mean For Forests?

Thirteen major US companies today took the White House’s “American Business Act on Climate” pledge to slash their greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change. The pledges commit to at least $140 billion in new low-carbon investment, but only three companies – Cargill, PepsiCo, and Walmart – made any explicit mention of purging deforestation from their supply chains. Here are seven questions you need to ask to understand why that matters.

Why is stopping deforestation so important?

Deforestation (or “net forest loss”) drives at least 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and agriculture drives another 14%, according to the Congressional Budget Office – meaning that land-use alone accounts for 26% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Why is it so hard to end deforestation?

Half of all deforestation worldwide is illegal, usually the result of aggressive and poorly-regulated agricultural practices, according to research by Forest Trends. Including legal activities, Forest Trends finds that at least 70% of deforestation is driven by consumer demand for just four crops – palm oil, soy, cattle, and timber – that are found in countless millions of everyday products.    

Have the three companies vowed to never chop down another tree?

No, but Cargill and PepsiCo have pledged to achieve “zero deforestation”, while Walmart has pledged “zero NET deforestation”.

Is “zero deforestation” even possible, and how is it different from “zero net deforestation”?

According to the pledge-tracking hub Supply-Change.org, companies that pledge “zero deforestation” are implying “no deforestation anywhere”.

Companies that pledge “zero net deforestation” are following an approach advocated by WWF and endorsed by the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), which acknowledges that “some forest loss could be offset by forest restoration”, such as through the purchase of “offsets” or credits earned by avoiding deforestation and protecting habitats.

For further reading, they suggest the 2013 paper “What Does Zero Deforestation Mean?” by Sandra Brown of Winrock International and Daniel Zarin of the Climate and Land Use Alliance.

Are these new pledges?

Supply-Change.org records show that all three companies had already pledged to purge deforestation, and all have reported quantitative progress on at least one of their commitments.

All three companies are members of CGF so have implicitly committed to zero net deforestation in addition to their explicit commitments to zero deforestation. Supply-Change.org’s methodology is to track those commitments made explicitly by the companies.

How many companies have taken similar pledges?

According to Supply-Change.org, 64 companies have pledged zero deforestation, while only 13 have pledge zero net deforestation.

It is possible that some of the remaining ten “pledge” companies have also made zero-deforestation commitments, but none of them made that explicit in today’s announcement, and none have expressed such commitments in a way that shows up on Supply-Change.org. Any companies that have taken zero deforestation pledges but aren’t listed there can contact the tracking project directly to request inclusion.

How can I make sure companies are actually delivering on their promises?

The Forest 500 tracks corporate impacts on forests – and ranks them according to their pledges – while Supply-Change.org tracks only companies that have made pledges, and aims to then track the actions they are taking in support of those pledges.

Steve Zwick

I edit Ecosystem Marketplace, which is a news service focused on environmental finance. With this blog, I hope to offer coverage that is a bit lighter and more holistic than what we offer on EM.

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