Amazon and Unilever among businesses teaming with governments on $1bn deforestation pledge

A group of businesses including Amazon, Unilever, and Nestlé has joined the UK, US and Norwegian governments in setting up a new public-private initiative committing $1bn to combat the climate crisis through the conservation and preservation of tropical forests across the globe.

The LEAF initiative aims to mobilise at least $1bn to support emissions reductions by ensuring tropical forests that act as carbon sinks are protected from deforestation

The LEAF initiative aims to mobilise at least $1bn to support emissions reductions by ensuring tropical forests that act as carbon sinks are protected from deforestation

The Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance (LEAF) Coalition has been set up by governments from the UK, Norway and the US with private sector support arriving from Amazon, Airbnb, Bayer, Boston Consulting Group, GSK, McKinsey, Nestlé, Salesforce, and Unilever.

The LEAF initiative aims to mobilise at least $1bn to support emissions reductions by ensuring tropical forests that act as carbon sinks are protected from deforestation while protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples and members of local communities.

Finance will be allocated to countries and jurisdictions that can showcase commitments to protecting their tropical forests. US non-profit Emergent will facilitate transactions and oversee administrative duties for LEAF.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “The world’s tropical forests are the lungs of our planet and yet we are losing these great, teeming ecosystems at an unconscionable rate. This is having a devastating impact on the billions of people who rely on forests for their livelihoods and sustenance and is setting back our efforts to tackle climate change.

“Time is running out to protect our tropical forests from irreversible loss and limit global warming to 1.5°C. That is why the UK is proud to have joined our partners in the hugely exciting LEAF Coalition, galvanising business investment and working hand-in-hand with forest countries to stop deforestation, cut global greenhouse gas emissions and put nature on the path to recovery.”

From a corporate perspective, members of the LEAF Coalition will support the initiative while accelerating their own internal targets, with the likes of Amazon and Unilever aiming to transform themselves into net-zero businesses.

Companies may join LEAF at any time leading up to the signing of final agreements, which are scheduled for the end of the year.

Ecological crisis

The risks associated with not protecting and restoring nature are becoming more profound.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), $44trn – more than half of global GDP – is exposed to risks from nature loss. Similar research from WWF found that nature loss will cost the global economy at least £8trn by 2050 without transformational action from the public and private sectors, alongside governments.

Between 1980 and 2013 there were 12,012 recorded virus outbreaks globally. Factors spurring this trend are various and have been linked to a rise in trade and global connectivity and increased travel. As those factors rise, biodiversity falls, which is the crux of the issue.

Deforestation is linked to 31% of outbreaks such as Ebola, and the Zika and Nipah viruses. It assists in driving animals into human populations and away from their natural habitat, which in turn accelerates the spread of “zoonotic” diseases. Viruses like Zika, malaria and dengue fever have all been accelerated by climate change, according to the World Health Organisation.

As such, LEAF will ensure that third-party verification is provided for funding in order to verify that deforestation, and the emissions associated with this action, have been reduced across the applying jurisdictions.

The Coalition had also issued a global Call for Proposals for emissions from deforestation to be verified against globally recognised standards, namely ART/TREES, which has been recognised for more than a decade.

Interested jurisdictions will be invited to submit proposals by July 2021, with the aim of signing contracts before the end of 2021. Payments will then be made, based on verification and performance from 2022 through to 2026.

Green reaction

"The LEAF Coalition is a groundbreaking example of the scale and type of collaboration that is needed to fight the climate crisis and achieve net-zero emissions globally by 2050. Bringing together government and private-sector resources is a necessary step in supporting the large-scale efforts that must be mobilized to halt deforestation and begin to restore tropical and subtropical forests." said Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry.

Responding to the LEAF initiative Christiana Figueres, the UN’s former climate chief and founding partner of Global Optimism said: “Now is the time for leaders in both the public and private sector to incentivise the protection and restoration of nature, for a better chance of limiting temperature increase to 1.5C. Today’s Coalition announcement delivers new finance flows toward eliminating tropical deforestation at scale, improving community resilience and governance, increasing biodiversity – all necessary to thrive beyond the climate crisis.”

Global Canopy’s policy director Helen Bellfield said: “More funding to support action on the ground to reduce deforestation is always welcome, but the devil is in the detail of how this money will be delivered, how it will affect local communities and who will be held accountable.

“The companies involved must follow through on their commitment to also take action to reduce emissions from deforestation in their own supply chains. One billion dollars is a fraction in comparison to the trillions being spent on the trade and financing for agricultural commodities such as soy, beef and palm oil which are driving tropical deforestation.”

Biodiversity, as a corporate and political concept, remains largely undefined. The publication of the Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity is the latest major piece of work attempting to explore the role of natural capital in delivering planetary, societal and economic prosperity.

As Governments shift their focus towards the protection of the planet’s natural ecosystems, businesses are attempting to explore what this might mean for their own corporate stewardship efforts.

“Climate change is the greatest threat to our planet, and the LEAF Coalition offers us an opportunity to bring together governments and companies to fight it,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder.

“In uniting behind a common cause, the countries and companies of the coalition have a chance to end deforestation by 2030. As founders of The Climate Pledge – a commitment to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement 10 years early – we’re excited to support this important initiative and encourage others to do the same.”

Unilever’s Sustainable Sourcing Director Giulia Stellari appeared on edie’s biodiversity webinar on Wednesday (21 April) to provide an in-depth run-through as to how the business was approaching biodiversity use and protection. You can watch the webinar on-demand here.

“For nearly two decades, Unilever has been involved in industry efforts to eliminate deforestation from commodity supply chains,” Unilever’s chief executive Alan Jope added. “We have learned that individual actions alone – however bold – will never drive system change. Collective action is needed for real impact. The launch of the LEAF Coalition today provides fresh hope that we can end deforestation at scale and get the world on track for the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement.”

edie Explains: Biodiversity and Business

What is the relationship between biodiversity and business? What are the operational challenges and opportunities surrounding biodiversity? And what steps can be taken to reverse nature loss and restore natural habitats? This free edie Explains guide answers all of those key questions and more.

Produced in association with The Woodland Trust, this guide answers all of the questions that businesses might have in relation biodiversity – a topic that is rising in prominence in the run up to the COP26 climate talks, and beyond.

Click here to download the report.

Matt Mace



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