Resilience Dispatch #23: How the world keeps its promise on deforestation

Mar 1, 2022

In this edition


In its annual assessment of global risks, the World Economic Forum called climate action failure the #1 global risk this decade. And given the year we’ve just had, I think that’s saying something!

If we do fall short on climate action, including on the recent Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, illegal deforestation will be a big reason for that failure. An estimated 69% of tropical forests lost to agro-conversion (i.e., clearing forests for cattle, soy, palm oil, and other commodity crops) is actually happening illegally. Countries have laws to protect their forests; they’re just not being followed. In Brazil, the illegality rate is closer to 95%. Most of these agricultural products are exported to consumer markets around the world, making us all complicit in forest loss.

So far, companies have been trying to fight this battle largely alone. But global commodity supply chains are complicated. Importers have had a very, very hard time determining where their purchases originally came from, and whether they are deforestation-free (the ideal), legal but unsustainable, or downright illegal. They have limited ability to get forest countries to enforce environmental protection laws. And while some companies are trying to do the right thing, there will always be laggards willing to deal in cheap, illegally produced commodities if they can get away with it.

In recent years, regulators in consumer markets in the US, EU, and UK have started to look at trade legislation that would keep products linked to deforestation off of supermarket shelves. These could reinforce corporate zero-deforestation pledges, and set a minimum standard for the laggards.

Our latest commentary shows how these pieces – voluntary and regulatory – can fit together. Regulators set a “legality”-based floor (remember, if everything entering the market were at minimum legally produced, that could eliminate 69% of the deforestation problem), while companies could aim for even higher standards of sustainability to demonstrate leadership and potentially capture price premiums (similar to Fair Trade coffee, for example). You can see how this works in the graphic below.

Importantly, this strategy is built on mutual respect and reciprocity for good-faith actions by the forest countries exporting commodities, as they work to enforce their own laws to protect forests. We need global cooperation, not unilateral trade barriers that might trigger pushback instead of progress. Cooperation is at the heart of the Paris Agreement, and it likewise needs to be at the heart of efforts to end forest loss.

We believe this approach can work, because we’ve seen it work before. We’ve seen a similar story play out in our 20 years of working on the illegal timber trade, and for conflict minerals and illegally harvested seafood.

– Michael

Deforestation is wreaking havoc on the climate, on biodiversity, on human rights, and on ecosystem resilience. In our latest commentary, Forest Trends charts a pathway for a pivot away from agro-conversion and towards a nature-positive global food and land-use system.


So far this year, we’ve welcomed four new Fellows to the Forest Trends family. Welcome Yuejia Peng, Jeff Wright, Alastair Handley, and Mike Korchinsky! 

Learn more about Forest Trends’ Fellows program here. If you have questions about the Fellows program or would like to know how to become a Fellow, please contact Tracy Ferrier, Senior Donor Engagement Officer at:

Associate Director, Climate Sustainability Group, IHS Markit 
Yuejia Peng is an Associate Director of Research in the Climate Sustainability Group at IHS Markit. She specializes in the economic drivers behind energy transition through carbon markets and pricing mechanisms, with a particular focus on nature-based solutions, natural capital, and carbon sinks. Prior to that, she was a strategy consultant with Strategic Decisions Group.
Landowner Key Accounts Manager, NCXJeff Wright is currently Manager of Key Landowner Accounts with NCX. Jeff is recognized as a world leader in the development of sustainably managed forest plantations for financially successful processing into products such as pulp, paper, and lumber, as well as carbon, and bioenergy. Emphasis has been on planted forests for afforestation, reforestation, and landscape restoration and he has completed consulting projects in more than 50 countries. Jeff recently finished a two-year contract as Director of Forestry for two companies in Indonesia and Borneo.
Alastair Handley
Founder, Radicle

Alastair Handley is the Founder of Radicle and a leader in global carbon markets. His personal mission is to help governments implement environmental market frameworks that accelerate emission reductions while creating employment opportunities. Alastair designed and developed one of the world’s first software platforms for aggregating and quantifying large-scale emission reductions to generate carbon credits in Alberta in 2008. Over his career, he’s founded and supported multiple businesses, the successes of which have proven that emissions reduction markets can simultaneously build wealth, generate jobs, create export opportunities, and protect the environment for future generations.

Founder & CEO, Wildlife Works
Mike is the Founder and President of Wildlife Works, a pioneering wildlife conservation company founded in 1997, financed by the development and management of REDD+ programs. He founded Wildlife Works on the principle that the needs of wildlife must be balanced with the needs of those local communities who share their environment with wildlife. With over 20 years of experience working directly with developing country governments, private sector and local communities on implementing conservation projects, Mike has led Wildlife Works to become one of the world’s leaders in REDD+.