The world’s biggest food companies, whose products have been linked to widespread rainforest destruction, have failed to find an adequate strategy to align their business practices with the 1.5C climate target, according to campaigners.
Top producers of soybeans, palm oil, cocoa and cattle released their roadmap to align with 1.5C earlier this week, pledging to develop and publish commodity-specific, time-bound targets to halt deforestation of forests to be supported by science and audited every year. The companies include Brazilian beef company JBS, US agricultural company Cargill and Singaporean food processor Wilmar International.
Land-use change is the second largest driver of global warming behind fossil fuel burning and the largest cause of biodiversity loss, while halting the destruction of rainforests is a key element in addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. To comply with 1.5C, all land-use conversion must stop by 2030 with significant progress made by the middle of the decade, scientists say.
While activists acknowledge that some progress has been made, especially with palm oil, they argue that companies have largely failed to deliver on the ambition they promised on soy and beef.
The dispute between campaigners and companies is over the date by which companies should stop deforestation. Cristiane Mazzetti, a senior representative of Greenpeace Brazil, said some of the companies had previously promised to rid their supply chains of deforestation by 2020 and failed.
“We cannot tolerate any more green or reckless behavior from these companies who profit from the destruction of ecosystems and devise more delays and inadequate plans to stop and reverse the destruction they are causing and will continue to fry the planet,” he said.
Malaysia and Indonesia, home to most of the world’s oil palm industry, have seen success in reducing deforestation in recent years, partly due to better legislation.
Nico Muzi, chief executive of environmental group Madre Brava, said the plan announced at Cop27 was some progress, but said the commitment fell short of what was needed, especially in the meat sector. “There are two glaring omissions: a deadline to stop soy deforestation now, and a ban on cattle conversion and soy expansion of South America’s largest savanna region, Brazil’s Cerrado,” he said.
André Vasconcelos, of Global Canopy, said the plan was encouraging as the companies involved accounted for more than 60% of Brazil’s soybean exports, 50% of Brazil’s beef and 45% of Indonesia’s palm oil exports in 2020, although some of the main producers were absent. . But he added that companies needed to go further for the plan to be credible.
“Tackling deforestation is integral to staying below 1.5C,” he said. “Marketers need to go further, faster. The roadmap calls for a proactive stance to avoid future deforestation and forest conversion, including a specific commitment not to invest in further infrastructure development at key deforestation frontiers. There needs to be a commitment to a common expiry date for commodities that includes all types of ecosystems.”
Jack Hurd, the executive director of the Rainforest Alliance that helps oversee the roadmap through the World Economic Forum, said he disagreed that not enough progress had been made and said he was particularly pleased with the move in the cattle industry.
“These companies often deal in one or more of the commodities. It is important to remember this. We work in many areas. The main advantage is the palm oil sector. It did very well and opened a clear path at 1.5C.
“Our view is that the soybean sector has room for growth. The cattle sector has some plans aligned with 1.5C. The science says that deforestation and all land-use change must end by 2030, with significant reductions by 2025. In our view, they have taken a big step into priority biomass,” he said.
Wilmar International, a major supplier of palm oil, highlighted this sector’s success in reducing deforestation and added: “Each commodity sector has a variety of commitments and indicators – some more comprehensive and progressive than others. The criticism leveled so far has wrongly and unfairly entrenched all commodity sectors towards lower commitment.’
Cargill and JBS did not respond to a request for comment.