The long road to sustainability | The Economist

9 мая 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »
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Western consciences can do only so to conserve forests

Sustainable, or nuts?

IN JUNE last Daniel Avelino, the public of Brazil’s state of Pará, the of most of the Amazon cattle-herd, saved more rainforest many conservation groups will. He identified 20 big ranches on illegally cleared land and the slaughterhouses buying their He then established that of the world’s best-known retailers, Wal-Mart and Carrefour, were meat from them. He the ranchers and abattoirs 2 billion ($1.2 billion) and told the that unless they up their supply chains he fine them, too.

The was dramatic. Overnight, the retailers buying meat from and the slaughterhouses closed. To get themselves off the and cows back on it, the abattoirs that in future they deal only with who had registered their names and details and promised not to deforest Over 20,000 have so. In the absence of a reliable land Mr Avelino says this make it much easier to illegal deforesters to book. I know who owns the farm, I can the fine through the post,” he

Around the same time waded in with a report on the of Amazon beef in deforestation. too, hit at the rich end of the industry’s chain, linking beef and from the Amazon to companies as Adidas, Nike, Toyota, and Kraft. Many have agreed to work with against illegal deforestation. And has promised to trace its products the manger to the refrigerator.

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That is the of growing global demand for food, timber and biofuels: for Western standards to be adopted up the chain. This is driven by the of Western consumers—and the activists who on them. Having been since given the brush-off by governments, they are finding that operate in tropical and sell to Western markets more responsive.

Nestlé, a food company, is another of recent targets. The environmentalists a spoof advertisement for one of the company’s bars, KitKat, which palm oil, and published it on the The ad shows an office worker on a chocolate bar which turns out to be the severed finger of an orang-utan. scored more than online hits and put Nestlé in a It stopped buying palm oil its main Indonesian supplier, Mas, a big conglomerate with a for chewing up rainforest, and said it purge from its supply any producer linked to illegal It has since promised to get 50% of its palm oil sustainable sources next And unconvinced by the standard of most of “sustainable” oil, Nestlé is its own.

Three reasons for pessimism

But are three black clouds this sunny scene. The is financial: eco-concerned consumers may sustainable products, but they do not to pay more for them. That not matter much to Nestlé it buys only 320,000 of palm oil a year, just of global output. It is a bigger for Wal-Mart, which deals in and has tight margins. It expects to no more for its green beef for its current offering. That raise questions about how it really is. To track an animal in the Amazon might well expensive technologies. Uruguay, for has a system of microchipping calves costs about $20 a head. may be beyond Wal-Mart’s budget.

The same problem haunts the forest-related certification scheme, for It dates back to 1993, the Forest Stewardship Council, an of greens and loggers, drew up a of rules for sustainable forestry. The was that consumer demand for wood products would logging companies to adopt the But only about 15% of timber and less than 2% of tropical is covered by it. Getting certified is costing about $50,000 per and the returns are often meagre. by the Home Depot, America’s purveyor of FSC-stamped products, that barely a third of would pay a premium of 2% for a certified not enough to green even retailers.


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The second cloud tropical certification schemes, as may find, is doubt about reliability. Some also say sustainable tropical logging is Remove 200-year-old Amazon or Congolese sapele trees and the may go locally extinct. And although it is as loggers argue, that old, slow-growing trees and their carbon in expensive may represent a net sequestration opportunity, levels of wastage make the less convincing. So does the that a logged forest can be less permanent than a table.

Loggers do most harm to not by removing trees but by building that give land-grabbers to them. To get FSC certification, companies to prevent such trespass. But roads remain long loggers have moved on. In they represent a particular to precious forest fauna, chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas, by forests to the fast-growing cities bushmeat is prized. Along a logging road in southern your correspondent once saw hunters—and the half-eaten remains of two

In messy countries like certification schemes get corrupted. At certifiers may struggle to examine concessions on brief visits, as the of loggers who are also paying fee. Further down the chain, timber-dealers and factories are certified largely on the strength of which may be illegally bought. also allows inventories to be and illegal wood to enter the chain. And there is still about, despite the recent reported in Cameroon and elsewhere.

The factor undermining certification is the most important: the majority of commodities are not consumed in eco-sensitive Most rainforest timber is locally. In Brazil, for instance, the is 80%. And the biggest importers of timber, China and India, scant concern for its provenance China, the biggest exporter of products to Western markets, has seemed to care a bit more). and India are also the biggest of palm oil. Brazilian goes mainly to Russia, Hong Kong and Egypt. are not tree-huggers.

This highlights one of the biggest in forest conservation. Most of the it requires, such as rational planning, law enforcement and the rest, to be led by governments. Market-led schemes can up to a point, as Greenpeace has often but without government support soon hit their limits. On the hand, when governments put weight behind conservation, a bit of progress is possible.

Western are starting to do their bit. A amendment to America’s Lacey act has it an offence to import illegal This puts the onus on authorities to prove illegality, can be difficult, especially when the is from a dodgy place, Cameroon, and processed by a less one, like China. Nor is the same as sustainability, but often are close. Gibson Guitar, an American company, is at risk of the first victim of this It is being investigated on suspicion of importing illegal Madagascan

In July the EU also passed a law the import of illegal timber. Its rules on beef imports, demand traceability in producer could one day help reform cattle practice. But it would be far if Brazil were to decide to such steps itself.

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