In September 2014, more than 50 companies signed on to the New York Declaration on Forests. The declaration has a target to “At least halve the rate of loss of natural forests globally by 2020 and strive to end natural forest loss by 2030.”
Forty governments, 20 sub-national governments, 57 companies including Walmart, Nestlé, Asia Pulp and Paper, Wilmar International, Cargill, and Barclays, 16 indigenous peoples’ organisations, and 58 NGOs signed the non-legally binding political declaration.
Five years later, it’s clear that there is absolutely no chance of meeting that 2020 target.
As REDD-Monitor pointed out when the New York Declaration was launched at the UN Climate Summit in New York, the fact that the declaration is voluntary means that, “There are no sanctions for countries or companies that are in breach of the declaration.”
Hannah Mowat of FERN pointed out that the declaration “made no concrete commitment” to reduce the consumption of commodities that risk forest destruction such as palm oil, soya and beef in the global North.
Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy, one of the NGOs that signed on to the declaration, tells us on The Nature Conservancy’s website that we shouldn’t worry that the 2020 target will not be met.
Tercek doesn’t want corporate leaders to worry that NGOs will come after them for “dropping the ball” on deforestation.
“The 2020 goal isn’t going to happen, but that’s okay,” Tercek writes. “I’m here to tell companies: don’t despair.”
We shouldn’t be surprised by Tercek’s fondness for corporations. The Nature Conservancy works in partnership with several of the corporations that signed the New York Declaration. And Tercek’s previous job was 24 years with Goldman Sachs.
Tercek writes that,
I see things a little differently. Companies have much to be applauded for — as long as they have a solid plan in place to further ramp up progress toward their commitments.
Tercek comments that “These business operation changes, new technologies and working coalitions would likely not have happened without the 2020 commitments.”
Global Forest Watch was launched in February 2014. The New York Declaration, with its 2020 target was launched in September 2014. It’s impossible to say what would have happened if the New York Declaration did not exist.
What is clear is that the New York Declaration has failed to reduce deforestation.
“The 2020 deforestation goals represent the first serious attempt to implement deforestation commitments,” Tercek writes. He must have forgotten about the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020.
Tercek’s ex-colleague Justin Adams recently left The Nature Conservancy to became the Director of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020. Here’s how Adams explains what it set out to do:
Way back in 2012, the Alliance was founded to help the companies behind the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) achieve their 2020 zero net deforestation target. And we were so committed to this collective goal, we even named ourselves TFA 2020.
“Let’s not dwell on it”
Predictably, Adams doesn’t want to focus on the fact that the TFA will miss its founding target by a country mile. In a post on the World Economic Forum website, Adams give us five reasons to be optimistic about reducing – and reversing – deforestation. He writes that,
Despite my optimism, I know we will fall short of the 2020 target.
But let’s not dwell on it. Obsessing over the merits of an eight-year-old target doesn’t just tie us to an arbitrary moment in time, it also puts a finite limit on our aspirations. Instead, let’s focus on the way forward.
Like Tercek, Adams has a corporate background. Before working at The Nature Conservancy, Adams worked for eight years at BP, 18 months at the World Bank’s Carbon Finance Unit, and nearly four years as Chairman of the Board at Mendel Biological Solutions, a company that partnered with Monsanto to develop genetically modified crops.
Natural climate solutions, or problems?
Here’s the reality of tree cover loss in tropical countries since 2001:
The Nature Conservancy is one of the main proponents of “Natural Climate Solutions”, which it claims can meet 37% of the emission reductions needed by 2030. The dramatic increase in deforestation in recent years makes a nonsense of this claim. Tropical forests currently emit more carbon than they absorb.
Tercek’s and Adams’ relaxed responses to corporations’ failure to meet deforestation targets highlights the wishful thinking on which this 37% figure is based.
Obviously we need to massively reduce deforestation. But relying on reducing deforestation as a way of addressing climate breakdown at a time when deforestation is increasing is downright foolhardy.