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Leon Kaye headshot

Bonn Challenge a Huge Opportunity for Both Forests and Business

By Leon Kaye

The Bonn Challenge, a global multi-stakeholder effort to restore the world’s forests, was at center stage here in Honolulu during this week’s IUCN World Conservation Congress.

This initiative aims to restore 150 million hectares (579,000 square miles) of forest by 2020. The effort could result in the conservation and restoration of an area larger than the U.S. states of Texas, California and Montana combined. First launched five years ago in Bonn, Germany, this project seeks to restore a total of 350 million hectares of forest by 2030.

Dozens of NGOs and governments committed to do their part to make the Bonn Challenge a reality. On Saturday, Naoko Ishii, CEO and chairperson of the NGO Global Environment Facility (GEF), announced that the organization secured the cooperation of 10 countries in Africa and Asia. Together, these countries will add a total of 46 million hectares to this global commitment.

The $250 million forest restoration partnership with IUCN is a massive step forward for this initiative to meet its first target within four years. “The Bonn Challenge changed the way in which countries approach forest restoration, and has put this important movement much higher on the global agenda,” Ishii said to an IUCN audience last weekend in Honolulu.

Ishii cited several reasons why the drive to replenish more of the world’s forests is important. This multi-country effort will allow the rapid exchange of knowledge, tactics and best practices that can help heal these important ecosystems while preventing further deforestation. The GEF-IUCN partnership can also help countries develop stronger environmental and forestry policies.

And a critical long-term goal, Ishii insisted, is to help the private sector develop new business models that are bankable and will encourage companies to join the global effort to replant forests. Forests have several fundamentally important roles, including their function as the earth’s lungs in order to absorb carbon and mitigate long-term climate change risks. “We need to change how we work with the private sector so that climate finance can become an important part of this agenda,” Ishii said.

Indeed, one reason why deforestation has become worse in recent years is because the world’s forests are underpriced, much like other natural resources water. Forests are the foundation of many companies’ supply chains, even those that don't churn out products such as timber or paper. They also provide an economic lifeline for some of the world’s most vulnerable citizens, including indigenous peoples.

If the business community is going to survive, if insurance companies will be able to maintain their ledgers in a world where climate-related disasters wreak more financial havoc, and if farmers and food processing companies will still be able to grow and package products, then clearly more cooperation is needed to not just preserve, but expand the globe’s forests.

Some environments are quick to point out that the world’s multinational companies are a driver of deforestation. That may be true, but these companies also have the resources to reverse this trend. So far, however, the Bonn Declaration has been fueled mostly by NGOs and governments.

One company that says it is aggressively expanding the world’s amount of forests is Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). After years of confrontation with NGOs, which accused the company of being a leading cause of environmental degradation in Indonesia, the world’s largest pulp and paper company agreed to a zero-deforestation policy in 2013. The company also announced a forest conservation policy that includes several goals for 2020. As part of this agenda, APP said it will logistically and financially support the conservation of 1 million hectares of Indonesian forests. “We are the only private company to set such a challenge,” said Aida Greenbury, managing director and chief of sustainability for APP. “This is important because we have the opportunity to decouple economic opportunity and environmental degradation.”

Of course, it is important to note that, so far, these are just goals. It will take years for the fruits of these efforts to be visible, let alone have a positive impact on the climate.

But as more governments and companies make similar commitments, others will not want to be left out – and business can provide the finances and capacity that NGOs currently lack. If the world’s largest companies want to remain viable for the long term, they need to ensure their supply chains are cleaned up. And that starts with the most basic resources, including forests.

Image credit: Leon Kaye

Disclosure: Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) is funding Leon Kaye’s trip to Hawaii. Neither the author, nor Triple Pundit, were required to write about the experience. 

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye