Day Two at the international climate conference here in Paris (COP21) featured another key announcement that under normal circumstances could have been expected at the end of these two-week long negotiations. Similar to the announcement by governments of Germany, Norway, and the UK on Day One, this announcement also featured forest protection as a central element, but came from the corporate side. Two influential players of the private sector, Marks and Spencer (M&S) and Unilever, pledged to ensure that their companies, whenever possible, source their products from jurisdictions that have adequate environmental and social safeguards in place to protect forests and communities. The initiative builds upon efforts by the broader Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) to eliminate deforestation from their commodity supply chains. As Co-Chairs of the Forum, these companies’ joint announcement is expected to trigger similar pledges from other CGF members. This new initiative is supported by U.S. Government. Speaking at the announcement event, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell called the public-private partnership a “true model” and stressed the importance of coming together to “secure forests’ role in addressing climate change.”
While such an initiative certainly means progress and while we understand there are challenges to sourcing supply chains sustainably, we think it would be useful to have more detailed information on the extent to which this ambition can be put into practice.
Regardless, the announcement cemented another concept that also had transpired on Day 1: the need for private-public collaboration. Its importance was echoed in Day Two’s “Leaders’ Dialogue” on supply chain sustainability organized by the Global Environment Facility and featuring Naoko Iishi, CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility; Rolando de Barros Barreto, Minister of Environment, Paraguay; Francesco Tramontin, Director of Public Affairs, Mondelez Europe; Marco Albani, Director of the Tropical Forest Alliance; and Michael Jenkins, President and CEO of Forest Trends.
The panelists had a lot of praise for businesses’ promises to ensure that the materials they use in their manufacturing processes do not contribute to deforestation. While they felt it was refreshing to see that businesses have become such a strong force against climate change (Michael Jenkins: “Five, 10 years ago – who would have guessed that business would be the driver of sustainability?”), panelists also emphasized that commitments such as these are really just the beginning and that progress towards these goals has to be monitored closely, values have to continually be reassessed, and the needs of everybody involved have to be taken into consideration. As Forest Trends’ President Michael Jenkins emphasized, “It’s not development versus conservation, it’s development and conservation, together.” And Director of the Tropical Forest Alliance, Marco Albani, emphasized: “There is a sovereign right to economic development. The zero deforestation movement needs to come up with solutions [rather than problems].”