A Few Of The Bright Spots At Climate Week So Far

Steve Zwick

New York Climate Week wraps up on Sunday, and we’ve been covering it mostly from afar this year. Here’s a quick look at some of the most promising land-use stories we’ve seen to-date. It’s by no means a complete list, so feel free to let us know if we’ve missed anything.

23 September 2017 | The energy sector generates about 70 percent of all man-caused greenhouse-gas emissions, but the other 30 percent – and maybe much, much more – comes from the way we manage our forests, farms, and fields. For that reason, we’ve been keeping an eye out for good news on the land front either coming out of or tangentially related to New York Climate Week this year, and here are a few stories that caught our eye.

The World Moves Forward

Just before Climate Week launched on Monday, officials from the European Union, China and Canada met in Montreal to make sure they’re all on the same page when year-end climate talks begin in November. All three have taken promising steps towards either slowing deforestation at home or restoring degraded forests – although China has taken heat for “importing deforestation” by importing timber from high-deforestation areas.

Europe Moves Fastest

Of the three, Europe continues to be the most proactive: Last week, the European Parliament voted to add forest sinks to the European Union’s 2030 carbon budget; then, on the first day of Climate Week, Christiana Figueres, the former head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), called on the European Union to develop an action plan on imported deforestation – a welcome development, because research by Ecosystem Marketplace publisher Forest Trends shows that Europe’s imports of food and timber drive deforestation cross the developing world.

Figueres held up multilateral organizations like The Consumer Goods Forum as a template for countries to follow – a suggestion also borne out by research. Specifically, the Forest Trends Supply-Change initiative looked at 35 multilateral efforts and found that most of the companies participating in such groups not only pledged to reduce their impact on forests, but were generally good about reporting results.

A Ten-Point Plan For Ending Deforestation

One potentially massive development is the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020’s identification of ten key activities they say can eliminate deforestation from supply chains related to cattlesoyoil palm, and pulp & paper by 2020.

These are the big four commodities responsible for most of the world’s deforestation, and TFA 2020 is an incredibly diverse network of environmental NGOs, governments, and businesses devoted to ending that. They’ve spent the better part of a year speaking to more than 250 experts to create the “Commodities and Forests Agenda 2020”.

None of the activities are new or radical, and all are already working to one extent or another, but they’ve never been laid out together like this, and the consensus around them has never been so strong. We’ll be revisiting this subject in the weeks and months ahead, but here is the complete list:

  1. Eliminating illegality from supply chains: businesses can and should support government law enforcement by improving the way in which legal compliance is monitored in their own supply chains.
  2. Growing and strengthening palm oil certification: Consumer countries and companies should commit to buying through strong palm oil certification programs such as the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil.
  3. Scaling up sustainable intensification of cattle grazing: businesses and governments need to drive out illegal forest clearance and redirect incentives away low-yielding beef production.
  4. Sustainably increasing smallholder yields in palm oil and cocoa: Investment barriers that prevent best practices must be removed, while greater risk management and training can help to boost yields at smallholder plantations.
  5. Achieving sustainable soy production: Global demand is rising and production is expanding, causing major deforestation. Collaborative initiatives supported by companies, civil society and governments can help to ensure that production occurs without further landscape conversion. The 2006 Soy Moratorium in the Amazon has shown that, with improved forest governance and public-private initiatives, reduction in deforestation from soy expansion is possible.
  6. Accelerating jurisdictional programs: advanced climate and forest programmes that integrate land planning, sustainable forest management and commodity production are models for rural development in other countries and regions. More private-sector commodity commitments can be incorporated into government-led programs.
  7. Addressing land conflicts, tenure security and land rights: Assigning formal land titles is particularly relevant for areas traditionally occupied by indigenous peoples. It is essential to accelerate land registration efforts and put in place effective and fair conflict resolution mechanisms for competing land claims.
  8. Mobilizing demand for deforestation-free commodities in emerging markets: China and India are among the world’s biggest importers of soy, pulp and paper and palm oil. China alone is a huge importer of beef. Businesses and governments along these supply chains must work towards sustainable sourcing.
  9. Redirecting finance towards deforestation-free supply chains: Shifting to deforestation-free agricultural investment presents a $200 billion annual opportunity by 2020, while mitigating reputational and stranded asset risks. Risk management policies and subsidy reform – especially in agricultural credit – are needed.
  10. Improving the quality and availability of deforestation and supply chain data: More data must be collected and shared so that governments and companies can target and monitor their activities effectively.

New Effort to Galvanize People Around Solutions

Like the TFA initiative, an initiative called “Climate Optimism” also aims to galvanize existing efforts rather than offer something new and bold.

It’s a more mainstream-oriented and optimistic version of Bill McKibben’s 350.org, and may be the kind of thing that can bring the whole climate soultions thing beyond the echo chamber.

Steve Zwick is a freelance writer and produces the Bionic Planet podcast. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace, and prior to that he covered European business for Time Magazine and Fortune Magazine and produced the award-winning program Money Talks on Deutsche Welle Radio in Bonn, Germany.

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