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Mission 2020: holding corporations to account for deforestation, and supporting communities on the ground

The 2019 fire season is proving to be one of the most disastrous on record. Forest fires – intentionally lit to cheaply and quickly clear land for greater agricultural and industrial development – are destroying rainforest the world over. Any pathway toward a climate-stable future requires healthy forests, but forests and forest peoples are at greater risk than ever. From the Amazon to the Congo Basin to the islands of Indonesia, these rainforests are as critical to the local and Indigenous communities and countless species that call them home as they are to the future stability of our global climate. And these rainforests are going up in smoke to make the products that fill stores all around the world.

The 2020 ‘Super Year’ is a year for bold action. Whilst world leaders converge to renegotiate actions to address the climate, biodiversity and sustainable development crisis, hundreds of consumer goods companies, and banks, will be exposed for their failure to meet their 2020 ‘No Deforestation’ commitments. In the decade since these commitments were made, rapid environmental degradation, critical habitat loss, and violence against Indigenous Peoples and local communities have all grown worse.Corporate campaigners have executed impactful campaigns, negotiated a plethora of policies, and successfully defined the fundamental changes needed to our global food system – both what we eat and how it is produced – but the scale of change achieved has fallen short.

2020 will be a reflection point for civil society and corporations alike, but one outcome is certain: Rainforest Action Network and our allies will mobilize resources and people power to demonstrate that half-measures and green washing will not be tolerated.

NGOs will execute campaigns, not on individual companies, but on groupings of consumer goods companies, banks, and commodity producers that have the most influence on the fate of tropical rainforest frontiers. The scale of forest protection expected from the implementation for paper promises will be measured across intact forest landscapes and Indigenous Peoples’ territories, not by the hectare. Civil society and communities will be united in our absolute zero tolerance approach to corporations enabling the killing and intimidation of Indigenous Peoples and environmental defenders, who are demanding remedy for social and environmental harm.

The cutting edge research published will be supported by advanced deforestation and supply chain monitoring tools, capacity building and direct support to local conservation and Indigenous-lead organizations and communities with ‘boots on the ground’, and the recent IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land Use which confirmed once again that deforestation and peatland degradation – primarily caused by an unsustainable model of industrial agricultural production – is contributing to massive greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the climate crisis.

2020 is a year of new opportunities for philanthropists to work side-by-side with communities, civil society, and governments to keep forests standing and uphold the rights of Indigenous People to be the stewards of their forest territories. It is imperative that we support Indigenous and frontline communities in their fight to protect both their lands and their ways of life but also the vast majority of the world’s biodiversity. By being good allies to those that protect forests, we can slow deforestation and some of the most harmful impacts of climate change. It is also imperative that we transform conservation practices away from ‘fortress’ models that fail to centre the role, and vision, of communities into land-use plans that govern their territories.

One factor that will help secure success in 2020, and beyond, is ensuring that a common thread in funding strategies and people-powered interventions will be holding major corporations to account for their impact on the world’s forests and responsible for halting further expansion of deforestation-derived commodities into new forest frontiers.

A global outpouring of support for forest defenders, and an unrelenting pressure to hold the companies accountable, can turn the tide. Civil society and an impassioned public, together with the critical support of funders, got consumer goods manufacturing companies and banks to acknowledge deforestation as an issue in the first place. People power got us the company commitments, and people power can hold them accountable to achieving real change on the ground.

The climate crisis is fully upon us and the more forests fall, the worse it will get. For a liveable future, these companies must make good on their promises and cut deforestation, land grabs and human rights abuses out of their supply chains.

Ginger Cassady is Program Director at the Rainforest Action Network

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