By Andrew Bovarnick, Global Head at UNDP's Green Commodities Programme.

 

When David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II aired on TV around the world, people were amazed at the effects of ocean waste plastic on marine wildlife, and the backlash against single use plastic started. Now, bottle recycling schemes are growing and disposable items like plastic straws are being phased out.

So, is the current focus on illegal deforestation in the Amazon - which hit the headlines when the Amazon forest fires were top of the agenda at the G7 in Biarritz, France, an equivalent to this ‘Attenborough Moment’? And what can we as UNDP do to hasten this, with NYC Climate Week approaching next week?

The Presidents of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, along with Ministers from Brazil, Guyana and Suriname, have signed the Leticia Pact for the Amazon, to agree on measures to protect the world’s biggest rainforest from wildfires and illegal forest clearance. Colombia’s Environment Minister, Ricardo Lozano, said “We needed to increase and strengthen the co-operation between us, precisely to meet the great challenges of the Amazon which are becoming more extreme and more intense every day.

Cristiana Paşca Palmer, the executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, told The Guardian (UK) that the destruction of the world’s biggest rainforest was a grim reminder that a fresh approach was needed to stabilise the climate and prevent ecosystems from declining to a point of no return, with dire consequences for humanity.

We need to address the root causes,” she said. “Even if the amount involved in extinguishing fires in rainforests was a billion or 500 million dollars, we won’t see an improvement unless more profound structural changes are taking place. We need a transformation in the way we consume and produce."

This is not just about biodiversity conservation, it’s about finance and trade and changing the model of development. We need to put biodiversity and natural capital at the centre of the economic paradigm.

 

View of the San Martín region in the Peruvian Amazon.

 

Her words are an encouraging sign that the piecemeal approach to illegal deforestation is ending and a more systemic understanding is building. UNDP promotes Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration for Systemic Change - bringing together all the stakeholders involved in the system, from smallholder producers to Multinational corporations, to work together to transform the whole system.

In our work we often come up against the wish for a quick fix, for results tomorrow. But changing a whole system takes time and persistence, in fact going for the quick fix can be damaging for the long-term goal because an immediate small win allows everyone to relax and take their eye off the longer view. In the Amazon, the motivation to do more than just put out the fires shows that this long-term view is building. UNDP's From Commitment to Action programme has collaborated with stakeholders in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador to explore how commitments from governments and corporations are being implemented. In Ecuador this support works within the framework of the much larger PROAmazonia initiative.

The UNDP REDD+ programme, the framework for financing forest-based emission reductions, tackles the issues from the forest end of the continuum while initiatives such as the Green Commodities Programme approach them in a sustainable agriculture context. In this way, UNDP integrates its Nature Based Solutions from all directions to enable systemic change.

In our GEF-funded Good Growth Partnership, we use the levers of sustainable production, sustainable demand and sustainable finance to bring about change in the system. Transposing this focus to the context of the Amazon, promoting sustainable production comes up against the political question, but the worlds of sustainable demand and finance are working to identify measures to combat illegal Amazon deforestation. Already key consumer brands like  Timberland and The North Face are boycotting leather from the region and investors, including Norway’s Storebrand ASA and KLP, are withdrawing from companies which carry a high Amazon risk element. Forests are cleared for beef and soy cultivation, so removing the demand for these products should have an effect - every country needs the income that trade provides.

One fashion insider says she has seen a list of many fashion brands who have already told their supply chains that they no longer want leather from the Amazon – and the region’s leather suppliers are reacting and putting pressure on their governments to do something fast as they are losing so much business.

She says this is an example of the quick fix response – too often the result of events like these. Brands – who do not have traceable and verifiable supply chains/sourcing - take a knee-jerk reaction to events and then change sourcing – rather than working consistently with their supply chains in Multistakeholder Collaborations to put in place the governance, traceability and verification that safeguards them from these catastrophes. 

 

Gustavo Fonseca, Director of Programs at the Global Environment Facility, at the Good Growth Conference in Peru.

 

So, is deforestation having its ‘Attenborough Moment’? In taking its rightful place in the public consciousness, the G7 has started a wave and the forthcoming Climate Week and events leading up to the 2020 U.N. biodiversity conference in Kunming, China, will cement the understanding of the problem.

What we need now is to build a collaboration around a systemic solution. It’s not only the public, but also governments, corporations and civil society that must come together if we are to build solutions that will last. Dramatic events like the forest fires can trigger individual siloed efforts to find a solution, but there is an increasing realisation that working together across sectors and between countries is the only way to build lasting, whole-system transformation. MultiStakeholder Collaboration is evolving as the most effective way of doing this : our experience is that it is not only the quantity of collaboration that matters (meetings, workshops, conferences), but also the quality – the degree of trust-building and mutual understanding that exists in the system - that needs to change. If we can build trust in each other to find the solutions to climate change together then we will truly have our Attenborough Moment.