Greenpeace’s Diana Ruiz says Consumer Goods Forum members should be in crisis talks to rescue their failed no-deforestation commitments in Vancouver this week. Instead they are discussing how to expand operations that are fuelling climate change
Climate change and the world’s sixth mass extinction event – both the result of humanity’s over-consumption of natural resources – are the two greatest threats humanity faces.
Scientists warn that we are already feeling the impacts of anthropogenic climate change, and around 1 million species are now at risk of extinction.
Ecological and climate breakdown share many of the same drivers: notably, the destruction of forests and other natural ecosystems by industrial agriculture. Some 80% of global deforestation is a result of agricultural production, which is also the leading cause of habitat destruction. Animal agriculture – livestock and animal feed – is a significant driver of deforestation, and is also responsible for approximately 60% of direct global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture.
By the start of 2020, some 50 million hectares of forest – an area the size of Spain – are likely to have been destroyed for global commodity production
Halting deforestation and restoring the world’s forests is the cheapest and fastest way to reduce GHG emissions and ensure rapid carbon uptake. At the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, members of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), the world’s largest consumer brands, including Nestlé, Mondelēz and Unilever, committed to eliminate deforestation by 2020 through the responsible sourcing of the commodities most linked to forest destruction: cattle, palm oil, pulp and paper, and soya.
With just 200 days to go until 2020, global commodity production remains a leading cause of forest destruction, according to Greenpeace International’s report Countdown to Extinction, published this week as global brands gather in Vancouver for the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) global summit.
Forest protection and the climate crisis are not even on the agenda of the CGF meeting, yet our report suggests that by the start of 2020, some 50 million hectares of forest – an area the size of Spain – are likely to have been destroyed for global commodity production since those promises were made in 2010.
Meanwhile, the trade in high-risk commodities has boomed: since 2010, the area planted with soya in Brazil has increased by 45%, Indonesian palm oil production is up 75% and Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa footprint has grown by 80%. And the trend is set to continue: by 2050, global meat consumption (and hence production) is forecast to rise by 76%, soya production by nearly 45% and palm oil production by nearly 60%.
In early 2019, Greenpeace challenged more than 50 traders, retailers, producers and consumer goods companies to demonstrate their progress towards ending deforestation by disclosing their cattle, cocoa, dairy, palm oil, pulp and paper, and soya suppliers.
Not a single company was able to demonstrate meaningful effort to eradicate deforestation from its supply chain. Data from the handful of companies that did disclose their commodity suppliers indicate that they all source from traders or producer groups involved in forest destruction.
Many food giants are aggressively expanding into markets where meat and dairy consumption is below the global average, pushing junk food and meat-rich diets
Overconsumption of meat and dairy is an underlying driver of forest destruction, both for grazing land and for crops for industrial animal feed. Yet brands do not even know the volume or origin of the animal feed in their meat and dairy supply chains – a huge oversight, as soya is the second-most significant driver of global deforestation and 90% of soya produced worldwide is used for animal feed.
Further, many food giants are aggressively expanding into new markets and regions where meat and dairy consumption is below the global average, pushing junk food and meat-rich diets that nutritionists warn are a disaster for our health.
We have just over a decade to get GHG emissions under control if we are to limit global warming to below 1.5C. Preventing climate and ecological breakdown will require transformative changes to the way forests are managed and agricultural commodities are produced, dramatic reductions in meat and dairy consumption, and the phasing out of crop-based biofuels and bioplastics.
The onus is on brands that use high-risk commodities like beef, palm oil and soya to demonstrate that their supply chains are free from deforestation. Brands must also slash their use of meat and dairy, leading to a more than 70% reduction in per capita consumption in high-consuming areas such as North America and Europe by 2030.
This means replacing industrially produced milk, pork, beef and poultry products with healthy and affordable plant-based foods. We are experiencing a climate and ecological emergency. Companies that are unwilling or unable to do what is needed to fix the global commodity trade and keep forest destroyers out of their supply chains must instead avoid high-risk commodities entirely.
As Anna Jones, Global Project Lead for Forests at Greenpeace UK, points out: “These companies are destroying our children’s future by driving us towards climate and ecological collapse. They’ve wasted a decade on half-measures and in that time vast areas of the natural world have been destroyed. They should be in crisis talks right now, but they’re still trying to grow demand for products that will drive forest destruction even further.”
Diana Ruiz is senior palm oil campaigner at Greenpeace USA. She had input into the Greenpeace International report.
For a response by Ingacio Gavilan of the Consumer Goods Forum see: Contrary to what Greenpeace says, Consumer Goods Forum is actively combating deforestation
Main picture credit: Greenpeace International