Deforestation is Increasing During the Pandemic: What Can Business Do to Turn the Tide?
World Rainforest Day (WRD) has arrived again for the fourth consecutive year, this time during the COVID-19 pandemic. WRD is a time for enjoying the rainforests with all their glory, diversity and resource richness. It's also a day to consider the threats facing these ecosystems, including deforestation, and ask: What can we do to protect these precious habitats?
Rainforests are among the planet's most biodiversely active ecosystems. We support more than half of the world's plant and animal organisms, occupying just 6 per cent of the Earth's surface. Rainforest cover is important, providing about 20 percent of the world's oxygen and temperature control.
Yet rainforests are facing ever greater challenges. A loss of 14,500 square miles of global rainforest was reported last year. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) German branch reports that, in March of this year alone, 2,500 square miles were lost. That is 150 percent higher than the 2017 to 2019 March average.
The WWF has identified two factors that cause this disquieting increase. Pandemic-prompted stay-at - home orders have decreased police presence in forests, allowing illicit deforestation to proliferate, and global employment shortages as a result of the pandemic have driven people to act out of fear.
According to WWF report, forests in Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Brazil have suffered the most severe losses.
Losing rainforests to clearcut or monoculture has serious economic implications. A research published last year in the journal Nature found that keeping the Amazon rainforest intact would have positive annual effect of $8.2 billion. Deforestation over a 30-year period could cost cumulative social and economic deficits as much as $3.5 trillion.
Business solutions to deforestation during the pandemic
To reduce illegal deforestation, the WWF suggests that governments have financial and technical tools to sustain their people. Nevertheless, it might be impractical to expect governments to do the heavy lifting to protect forests while they are already faced with a pandemic. Company strategies will help to reduce deforestation from the ground up.
Beginning from a business viewpoint, Toby Gardner, senior research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute, told Al Jazeera in 2019, most of the land already cleared by deforestation and fires is economically unproductive, also abandoned. A 2012 McKinsey study advises increasing farmland production by adopting best agricultural practices, rather than clearing more trees for agricultural use. Such reforms could symbolically free up more than 370 million acres of land, the study states.
Most businesses continue to help sustainable rainforests. Now will be a good time for those companies to ensure that they have the correct policies and practices in place to meet their stakeholders and customers' promises.
A 2014 report in The Guardian describes three important elements to promote sustainable management of rainforests. Above all, every business that depends on rainforest-based resources and their ecosystems must know the ins and outs of its supply chain. The business will then establish partnerships with those suppliers, part of which is having the requisite financial support to meet the highest expectations for local industries. If the requisite requirements do not yet exist to increase the value of the already cleared land and to protect old-growth forests from further deforestation, it is the duty of companies to work to improve it.
Now is the time for businesses to step up for rainforests
When fires raged through the Amazon last year, 230 major investors called on corporations to step up their efforts to preserve the rainforests.
"The deforestation and biodiversity loss are not just environmental problems. These problems are correlated with major negative economic consequences and pose a danger that we as investors can not disregard, "said Jan Erik Saugestad, CEO of Storebrand Asset Management, Norway's largest private asset management company and one of the signatories.
Investors have called on businesses to forego any action contributing to deforestation, but not to stop there. Actions should be measured and quantifiable, clear and recorded.
Rainforests are a global resource — it takes concerted global action to protect them, including corporate action. According to Global Canopy 's 2019 Forest 500 report, some of the world's largest companies and businesses have made no public commitment to decreasing deforestation — Tyson Foods, Ashley Furniture, Samsonite and Amazon among them. Among the 500 most powerful forest-risk corporations and financial institutions, 140 have no public commitment in their supply chains to end the deforestation.
Despite this, rainforests are not unexpectedly vulnerable to a 150 per cent rise in deforestation in just a few months. This WRD will be a call-to-action for corporations to accept responsibility for our global rainforests and forgo their long-held silence.