The UK Government has launched its new Global Resource Initiative Taskforce, which has a remit to work with companies, and governments in producer and intermediary companies to establish the UK as a leader on supply chain sustainability and reduce deforestation.
The announcement is welcome news as the taskforce brings together senior figures from the private sector, including Cargill, McDonald’s and Tesco, alongside civil society representatives, who together have the potential to address the challenge of reducing tropical deforestation and impacts on biodiversity.
The Taskforce is expected to hold just three meetings, but to gather inputs from others in industry and beyond to support an agreed plan of action, with working groups looking at specific issues.
UK imports of goods such as palm oil, soy, beef, leather and cocoa have a deforestation risk as global demand for these commodities is driving agricultural expansion into forests in tropical countries.
For example, the UK imported more than 672,000 tonnes of soy from Brazil in 2017, with some of those supplies sourced from areas where forests and native vegetation are being cleared.
Senior Trase Research Associate Dr Chris West, based at SEI-York, said the taskforce was an important step forward in identifying and addressing the UK’s impacts on tropical forests.
“The government has an important role to play in supporting collaboration between companies, the financial institutions funding these activities, and other sectors to address the complex issues around deforestation and forest risk supply chains.”
He said that NGOs and the research community could make an important contribution to furthering understanding, using tools such as Trase to help governments and companies better understand the nature of their supply chain footprint.
Helen Bellfield, Programme Director at Global Canopy added that it was crucial that the taskforce went beyond analysing the problem.
“We have seen growing awareness of the impacts of global supply chains on forests and on wider biodiversity. What is really needed now, not just in the UK, but across consumer countries, is government support for action to address this problem, whether that is by supporting more sustainable production on the ground or by legislating to require companies to identify and remove imports that are linked to deforestation. We need to see that growing awareness translated into concrete plans that will reduce that impact on the ground.”