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Tropical forestry companies failing to protect millions of hectares of forest

Despite international agreements, SPOTT's 2020 Timber and Pulp Assessments of 100 timber and pulp companies published in July 2020 by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in the UK reveal the widespread failure of timber companies to guarantee environmental protections for at least 11.7 million hectares of tropical forest.

Despite international agreements, SPOTT’s 2020 Timber and Pulp Assessments of 100 timber and pulp companies published by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) reveal the widespread failure of timber companies to guarantee environmental protections for at least 11.7 million hectares of tropical forest (graphic courtesy ZSL).

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.

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, said Charlie Hammans, Forestry Technical Advisor at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) who led the analysis.

According to ZSL, 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.

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, said Charlie Hammans.

Key findings of the SPOTT’s 2020 Timber and Pulp Assessments include:

  • Over half (54 percent) do not publicly commit to protecting biodiversity (49/90 companies)
  • 44 percent have yet to publicly commit to zero-deforestation (40/90 companies)
  • Only 37 percent provide evidence of conservation, such as restoring river habitats or planting native species in degraded areas (33/90 companies)
  • Just 13 percent report actively monitoring for deforestation throughout the areas they manage (12/90 companies)

Increased risk of “viral spillover”

The current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic 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 spillover 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.

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, but it also shines a light on the laggards that are failing to meet basic commitments to protect these critical habitats, said Eugenie Mathieu of Aviva Investors.

About SPOTT

Developed by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), an international wildlife conservation charity, the Sustainability Policy Transparency Toolkit (SPOTT) is an online platform supporting sustainable commodity production and trade. By tracking transparency, SPOTT incentivises the implementation of corporate best practice. Investors, buyers and other key influencers can use SPOTT assessments to inform stakeholder engagement, manage risk, and increase industry transparency.

SPOTT assesses commodity producers and traders on their public disclosure regarding their oragnisation, policies, and practices related to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. SPOTT scores companies annually against sector-specific indicators to benchmark their progress over time.

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