Thinking Bigger to Save the World’s Forests
Over the last 20 years, credible certification has resulted in hundreds of millions of acres of forests being protected, either through responsible management or avoided deforestation.
Today, over 470 million acres of forestland are certified as responsibly managed under the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC’s) rigorous standards. When consumers see the FSC label on the paper, wood, and other forest products they buy, they can feel confident that their purchase is not contributing to deforestation or forest degradation. The same is true for credible labels related to responsible agriculture, such as the Rainforest Alliance and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil ‘Next’ labels, as the expansion of farms and ranches severely threaten the world’s forests.
Saving the world’s forests will be impossible without these market-based systems. But more is needed.
We need to reinforce the building blocks of certification and take their benefits to broader scales by plugging in a focus on governance–especially in places where weak governance and enforcement undermines conservation efforts.
Enter the jurisdictional approach to addressing deforestation and forest degradation.
At the heart of this approach are the governments, companies, and community members in a government jurisdiction (e.g., district, state, or province) that have a common interest in forest conservation. Bringing these voices together makes it possible to craft lasting solutions by combining the market power of companies, the lawmaking and enforcement ability of governments, and the ingenuity and deep ecological knowledge of the people who live in the forest.
Working at a jurisdictional level also helps ensure that efforts to protect forests in one place don’t simply kick the deforestation problem down the road. And engaging all concerned groups within a jurisdiction makes it possible for the public and private sectors to work through big challenges collaboratively, such as how to meet the target each country set in Paris in December to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
But how do jurisdictional approaches work? Who is involved and what strategies are being used? Jurisdictional Approaches to Zero Deforestation Commodities, a new WWF paper, addresses these questions by mapping out a variety of initiatives underway in more than 25 jurisdictions.
Given that the initiatives are in the early stages, the jurisdictions are serving as petri dishes—where different methods are being tried to scale up deforestation-free production of commodities.
For example, the State of Sabah, Malaysia is pursuing a plan focused on large-scale certification of palm oil. By 2025, it intends to evolve palm oil certification within its borders from a tool that promotes good management at the plantation level to one which would assure that all palm oil produced in the State meets the criteria of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil.
In contrast, an initiative jointly announced by Marks & Spencer and Unilever at the Paris Climate Conference last year seeks to leverage global demand signals rather than work in any one location in particular. The two companies are developing criteria by which any jurisdiction can demonstrate that it is effectively tackling deforestation. Companies can then reward this progress and move closer to zero deforestation in their own supply chains by preferentially purchasing from these jurisdictions.
The findings in this paper will guide WWF as we ramp up our own jurisdictional work in the coming months. We also will use them to explore ways to energize and focus knowledge exchange among governments, companies, and organizations that are leading the experimentation with jurisdictional approaches. Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 is one important platform where this is happening, and is already supporting an analysis that will build on the lessons from our paper and examine a few jurisdictional initiatives in more depth.
Certification is an indispensable tool for conserving forests. Jurisdictional approaches to addressing deforestation offer a way to amplify this impact by bringing together all actors that share a landscape or jurisdiction to forge a unified conservation agenda.