Despite international agreements, analysis reveals widespread failure of timber companies to guarantee environmental protections for at least 11.7 million hectares of tropical forest.
A new analysis of 100 of the most significant tropical timber and pulp companies, published by conservation charity ZSL, shows that:
- Over half (54%) do not publicly commit to protect biodiversity (49/90 companies)
- 44% have yet to publicly commit to zero-deforestation (40/90 companies)
- Only 37% provide evidence of conservation, such as restoring river habitats or planting native species in degraded areas (33/90 companies)
- Just 13% report actively monitoring for deforestation throughout the areas they manage (12/90 companies)
Companies lacking zero–deforestation commitments manage a confirmed 11.7 million hectares (an area almost the size of England) of tropical forest. As many of the companies do not disclose the size of the areas under their control, the real extent of tropical forest at risk will be far larger. This is despite the agreement to halve deforestation by 2020 in the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) which was signed by governments, representatives of the timber industry, and NGOs in 2014.
ZSL’s Forestry Technical Advisor Charlie Hammans, who led the analysis, says: “Tropical forests play a vital role as a carbon ‘sink’. They regulate global weather patterns, contain countless species and are home to 300 million people, yet companies still aren’t complying with the basic reporting standards expected of the sector.”
The assessments have revealed that significant improvements are required from companies to ensure the future of millions of hectares of carbon-rich forest. Without adequate protection, forests are vulnerable to rapid deforestation and degradation, which often leads to the eventual clearance for other commodities such as palm oil, rubber or cocoa.
Hammans adds: “Worldwide trade in unsustainable timber threatens the livelihoods of indigenous and local communities and the existence of wildlife reliant on forest ecosystems. It is accelerating the loss of biodiversity and eroding natural protections against zoonotic viruses. Companies should focus on identifying previously degraded landscapes for new plantation development, alongside adopting robust environmental, social and corporate governance policies and constantly monitoring their implementation.”
Covid-19 has highlighted the risk of zoonotic diseases. Forest destruction and degradation, and the loss of biodiversity within ecosystems, are known to increase the risk of viral spill–over and make future pandemics more likely. With forestry operations and trade ministries worldwide keen to boost exports following the economic impact of Covid-19, governments and industry must insist on improving sustainability standards and driving a green agenda.
Eugenie Mathieu of Aviva Investors says: “Deforestation, loss of biodiversity and climate change all pose significant financial risks, not only to the planet but also to economies, corporate bottom lines, and investors’ savings and investments. There is now a growing expectation for companies to publicly disclose and implement a zero-deforestation policy covering the entire supply chain, and establish a transparent monitoring and verification system for their suppliers. This analysis not only highlights the companies improving their disclosures, it also shines a light on the laggards that are failing to meet basic commitments to protect these critical habitats.”
A lack of funding – as a result of the current pandemic – has put ZSL’s world-leading expertise in science and conservation in serious jeopardy. ZSL needs urgent support to keep its scientists investigating wildlife diseases such as Covid-19, and its conservationists working in the field to protect the wildlife and ecosystems on which we rely. Find out more at www.zsl.org/donate.