August 28, 2023

Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether zero-deforestation commitments are effective. We also look at the diluted Coastal Regulation Zone norms in Maharashtra, among other news.


Are zero-deforestation commitments effective?

A large multinational corporation today is under more scrutiny than ever before. From sourcing raw materials to the finished product on store shelves, every aspect of that process is closely looked at for several reasons. One of them is to ensure sustainability. How environmentally friendly are they? What’s the impact of logistics and sourcing on the environment?

Companies took notice and decided to act. Many announced “zero deforestation commitments”. Simply put, companies wanted to know how their business might be affected by deforestation and wanted to do something about it. What part do they play in perpetuating deforestation? How far do these commitments take us toward a reduction in deforestation? Are they successful or just another line item?


In recent decades, the prime drivers of deforestation have changed. For a while, it was due to poverty-driven subsistence farming. That changed to big companies razing forests for large-scale projects like mining. Let’s take the Amazon rainforest as an example. Since 1995, it lost more than 1 lakh square miles of tree cover. Subsistence farming gave way to large corporations buying up parcels.

Let’s begin with governments. At the 2021 climate conference in Glasgow, 145 countries, including China and Brazil, pledged to halt and reverse forest loss within the decade. It was a landmark agreement.

Also, in 2021, to mark Earth Day at the Leaders Summit on Climate, the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance (LEAF) coalition committed to offering economic incentives to protect tropical forests by selling carbon credit. This was different from the Glasgow conference pledge. It was a public-private alliance that included companies like Amazon, Airbnb, Nestle, and Unilever.

Consumer goods companies are uniquely exposed since many of the raw materials needed to make their products come from forests. Some examples are palm oil and cocoa. Tracing the supply chain is an important aspect. A chocolate bar bought in the US or Asia could have its origins in an African country. In the tropics, about 80% of the trees razed are cleared to make way to grow soybeans, cocoa, and cattle.

Since the 2000s, forest conservation proponents ranging from the UN to NGOs have been talking about paying countries to reduce emissions from deforestation. The problem was money – the lack of it. Plenty of money is required for tangible results in lowering forest degradation, which was a struggle. As a result, the degradation of primary forests increased by 30% in the 2010s.

While carbon credits seemed a good option, not everyone was on board. Some activist groups were concerned about how companies would present themselves on carbon accounting. Environment groups’ inherent distrust of companies was the underlying cause for suspicion.

There’s reason to be suspicious. Some research has shown that a third of companies with influence on tropical deforestation risk through their supply chains don’t have a deforestation commitment policy. For financial institutions, the picture isn’t good. 61% of them exposed to deforestation don’t have a dedicated policy covering their lending and investments.

The EU’s upcoming zero-tolerance deforestation law has investors concerned about their exposure to the problem. Last December, the EU agreed on a law to prevent companies from selling coffee, beef, soy and other goods linked to deforestation in the EU market. It requires companies to have a statement showing their supply chains aren’t contributing to the destruction of forests, or they’ll face significant fines.

VIEW: A step in the right direction

Several companies have made strides in identifying what’s in their supply chains to ensure their commitment to zero deforestation. These companies have lobbied for the standards to be more widely adopted. They’ve also pushed governments to enact legislation. There have already been some results. Brazil, in some ways, is a hopeful tale where deforestation decreased by 84% between 2004 and 2012.

It all goes back to the supply chain. With these commitments, companies have no option but to do a thorough audit, irrespective of how much time and money is involved. Mars Inc., the maker of the chocolate bar, identified its cocoa source to 1,500 palm oil mills by the end of 2020. That number has reduced to 87. Nestle reported its suppliers of pulp, soy, palm oil, and sugar were 90% deforestation-free. Both companies used satellite imaging and on-the-ground surveys.

The case studies and reasons for hope are Malaysia and Indonesia – the world’s two biggest palm oil-growing nations. According to Global Forest Watch (GFW), they’ve managed to keep primary forest loss at near-record lows. In Indonesia, strict government policies on forest fire prevention, mangrove rehabilitation, etc., have helped. The No Deforestation, No Peat, and No Exploitation (NDPE) commitment covers most of the palm oil sector in these countries. The pulp and paper industries have similar obligations.

COUNTERVIEW: Not much of a success

When some of the biggest companies in the world pledged to change their practices to reduce deforestation a decade ago, 2020 was seen as an important deadline. That came and went, and no company could definitively say it eliminated forest destruction from its supply chain. Some didn’t even bother to try. Companies said they would achieve zero deforestation by only dealing with certified sustainable sellers. Justin Adams of the Tropical Forest Alliance said this was a naive approach.

An investigation in Brazil found ranchers operated on illegally deforested land and sold over 17,000 cattle to intermediaries who then sold to big companies. When Nestle reported its findings on pulp, sugar, and palm oil being 90% deforestation-free, the data was mostly from low-risk regions like Europe and the US. Also, cocoa and coffee weren’t in its original goal.

One of the issues with zero deforestation is what defines a forest. We’ve got a mental picture when we see that word. However, there are differences across several countries. Deforestation is also intertwined with poverty, inequality, and indigenous population demographics. Zero deforestation might go against traditional practices or restrict community access. While the goals of zero deforestation are laudable, that could mean other non-forest ecosystems remain at risk. In Brazil, there’s the woody savannah called Cerrado. The clearance rate was 2.5 times higher than in the Amazon between 2002 and 2011.

Reference Links:

  • How do companies implement their zero-deforestation commitments – Science Direct
  • Governments, companies pledge $1 billion for tropical forests – Mongabay
  • The alarming decline of Earth’s forests, in 4 charts – Vox
  • A third of companies linked to deforestation have no policy to end it – The Guardian
  • Companies’ ‘zero deforestation’ pledges: everything you need to know – The Guardian
  • Hundreds of Companies Promised to Help Save Forests. Did They? – The New York Times
  • Are zero-deforestation targets the best way to conserve tropical forests? – Grantham Institute

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) Zero deforestation commitments are effective.

b) Zero deforestation commitments are ineffective.


For the Right:

A fact-check for Assam CM as he blames a long-dead scholar for North East problems

For the Left:

‘Shiva Shakti’ and ‘Tiranga’: How space missions impact psyche of nation


Tourist police for G20 (Delhi) – Specially trained Tourist Police will be stationed across the capital during the G-20 Summit. About 400 personnel, trained for this purpose, will use Bolero vehicles and be positioned at 21 key spots including airports, railway stations, markets, and monuments like Red Fort and Qutub Minar. This initiative follows directions from L-G VK Saxena in April to aid visitors and tourists.

Why it matters: The move will ensure safety and convenience for foreign delegates. Each unit member underwent task-specific training, conducted in collaboration with Delhi Tourism and other partners, as stated by L-G House officials. Tourist Police received instruction in soft skills, communication, Delhi’s geography, popular tourist sites, shopping centres, hotels, transportation nodes, G-20 venues, English proficiency, and firearm use.

Eradicating caste discrimination (Tamil Nadu) – The state government has outlined the purpose of the Justice K Chandru Committee, formed to address caste or creed-related conflicts among students and promote harmony in schools and colleges. The committee will assess actions needed from stakeholders to foster a bias-free environment in educational institutions, per a School Education Department Government Order.

Why it matters: They’re to suggest proactive measures involving teachers, students, and parents for harmony. The government also seeks advice on creating a grievance system for students and gathering input from educators, social workers, and others. The committee is to engage with various stakeholders, including police officers and juvenile justice boards, to comprehensively understand the issue and submit a report in six months.

Karala River floods (West Bengal) – Heavy rainfall caused the Karala River in Jalpaiguri district to overflow, flooding its banks and a 150-hectare tea estate on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri town. The flooding also led to damage in various areas, including a culvert, workers’ quarters, and roads within the estate. Santanu Basu, senior manager of Karala Valley tea estate, stated that multiple sections of the garden were affected, submerging tea bushes and nurseries. The extent of the damage is yet to be evaluated.

Why it matters: Situated about 10 km from Jalpaiguri town, the 300-hectare tea estate houses 1,100 permanent and 400 casual workers, along with around 5,000 residents. The Karala River flooding has affected workers’ colonies and damaged a vital culvert, raising concerns for medical emergencies. Unauthorised earth removal along the riverbanks has caused erosion and contributed to the flooding issue, prompting residents to call for intervention by authorities to prevent future floods.

Diluted CRZ norms (Maharashtra) – Environmental groups are criticising the weakening of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms in the approved Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) for Maharashtra’s coast by the Union government. The reduction of the buffer zone from 100 to 50 meters from the high tide line and river banks is seen as an open invitation to environmental disaster, according to the NatConnect Foundation. The 100-meter limit is already disregarded, and this reduction makes little sense, stated NatConnect director BN Kumar in a letter to the Union Environment Ministry.

Why it matters: Governments at both the Union and State levels seem unaware of global worries about rising sea levels and the prediction that much of the coast will be submerged by 2050, expressed Kumar. He regretted the lack of disaster plans and criticised the construction into the sea instead of allowing space for water. Nandakumar Pawar of Sagarshakti questioned the government’s commitment to the fishing community, highlighting the neglect of resettling those affected by urbanisation. Kumar concluded that pro-environment policies are mere lip service, given these developments.

Statewide shutdown (Tripura) – The Twipra Students Federation (TSF), a prominent tribal student group in Tripura, has announced a 12-hour statewide shutdown on Monday. They are urging for the use of Kokborok in Roman script and the approval of the 125th Constitutional Amendment Bill.

Why it matters: For a few months now, the Twipra Students Federation (TSF) has been leading a movement to have Kokborok in Roman script and pass the 125th Constitutional Amendment Bill. Following their previous efforts, they organised a march and now, as the government hasn’t responded, TSF has declared a 12-hour statewide strike on Monday.


₹3,900 crore – The Congress claimed that the Gujarat government overpaid Adani Power Mundra Limited by ₹3,900 crore, violating an agreement. It now demands the return of the sum to prevent exposure.