Forests and agriculture | Opinion

The real work has just begun

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Zero deforestation remains some way off

Future 500’s Erik Wohlgemuth argues for a holistic approach to tackle the deforestation challenges

Over 20 years ago, Future 500 worked with Mitsubishi Corporation and forestry NGOs to overcome bitter conflict and find common ground on responsible forestry sourcing practices.

Together, they advanced what was then a leading market procurement standard that shifted market demand from endangered and old growth forests toward FSC-certified forest products.

Our organisation was founded on the premise that building bridges between strategic change agents across sectors and ideologies is essential to advancing lasting systemic, positive market change.

Throughout our history, we have continued working to protect the world’s forest ecosystems. We have engaged with a variety of stakeholders, often when diametrically opposed, to continually improve corporate procurement policies and transparency commitments, as well as the third-party certification standards reinforcing them.

Like many, we are inspired to protect irreplaceable ecosystems and their biodiversity, ensure essential resources for future generations, and to help reduce climate change impacts.

Not far enough

Yet we collectively have not gone far and fast enough. Despite much progress, only approximately 30% of the world’s working forests currently operate under some certification standard. And only one-third of this is certified by FSC, considered the most stringent certification standard.

Several factors have combined to intensify the problems stemming from unsustainable harvesting of the world’s last remaining forests. There is an increased global demand for forest commodities. Land tenure rights are unclear and there has been a systematic dis-entitlement of local communities. Particularly in the developing world, government corruption, and weak regulatory and legal structures remain.

This is the stark reality on the ground, a problem of the global north and south alike.

To accelerate protection of the world’s working forests, a variety of key actors across the globe have been advancing zero deforestation supply chains. In the past two years, dozens of executive leaders from some of the world’s leading companies – including some of the most demonised – have made sweeping zero deforestation commitments. The boldest apply to all commodities that contribute to deforestation: timber, pulp and paper, palm oil, soya, beef, tea, coffee, cacao and dissolving pulp.

But these are currently just commitments, and change takes times. Now the much harder task of leveraging supply chain power to affect positive change really begins. Full implementation, verification, FPIC implementation and robust community conflict resolution, and ensuring transparency throughout the supply chain will be challenging, requiring sustained commitment and diligence for years to come.

To achieve such immense supply chain shifts, a multi-faceted approach is necessary. This should draw from the voices of knowledgeable and practiced stakeholders in frontline local and indigenous communities, local and international NGOs, and the leadership of multi-national corporations and their commodity suppliers.

Successful protection

We believe a holistic landscape and multi-sector approach is the only way to successfully protect and conserve forests.

And this is why we share experience: to roll up our sleeves and learn from those leading this transformative change. We all need to critically challenge ourselves to consider obstacles and ideological differences in order to work creatively and collectively on solutions.


Erik Wohlgemuth is chief operating officer at
Future 500. Future 500 is a sponsor of Innovation Forum’s deforestation conference in Washington DC.

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