TFD Week 2014: Understanding ‘Deforestation-Free’

TFD Week 2014: Understanding ‘Deforestation-Free’

Deforestation is not a new problem. Since the early 1990s, we have tried various methods to stem the tide of forest loss, including international law, voluntary certification, REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), and legality verification. But despite the contributions that these and other mechanisms have made, we are still losing forestland at an alarming rate. So what do we do now?

One approach that has recently been gaining traction is to sever the link between industrial agricultural expansion and deforestation. In the last few years, scores of multinational companies that produce and consume commodities such as palm oil, timber, soy, and beef have committed to eradicate deforestation from their supply chains. While some observers have characterized this trend as a “supply chain revolution” and call “deforestation-free” the new norm, the impacts of these sorts of commitments are not entirely clear. For example, what is meant by “forest”? How will indigenous communities be affected? How can commitments be verified?

During the last week of October, The Forests Dialogue organized TFD Week to examine these and related questions. Kicking the week off, TFD convened a two-day dialogue in which representatives of about 35 companies, inter-governmental organizations, NGOs, and civil society groups collaborated to pinpoint the fracture lines that will need to be resolved if zero deforestation commitments are to succeed in reducing deforestation. Closed-door sessions operating under the Chatham House Rule (which prohibits attribution of information discussed to particular individuals or organizations) enabled diverse stakeholders to engage in productive dialogue around this controversial topic in a neutral setting.

During and following the dialogue, a host of programs brought students into contact with many of the dialogue participants. A panel including leaders from The Forest Trust, WWF, and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil provided an opportunity to report out on some of the conclusions from the dialogue. Students got the chance to ask the very actors involved in making zero deforestation a reality how these commitments will effect change in practice, and a subsequent reception enabled students and practitioners to mingle informally before breaking off into discussion groups to discuss how deforestation is being addressed on the ground in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia.

Other events included a Yale Forest Forum lunch, hosted by TFD and the Global Institute for Sustainable Forestry, in which the sustainable forestry managers at International Paper and Kimberly-Clark discussed forest certification and fiber supply chains; a panel on ways to translate REDD+ from high-level policy into practice on the ground; and breakout lunches at the School of Management where students discussed with leaders from the corporate and NGO arenas how companies influence and are influenced by their supply chains, how to advocate for innovation in traditional decision-making spaces, and the nature of and ways to achieve the triple bottom line. To further capitalize on the range of experts drawn to Yale during TFD Week, TFD organized an afternoon teatime discussion on gender and natural resources, and collaborated with the F&ES Career Development Office to host a career panel and networking lunch.

Due to the popularity of these events among the students, TFD anticipates making TFD Week a recurring annual event.