COP23 update: Forests making news in Bonn

Tree frog, Suriname

A tree frog clings to a branch in the lowland forest near Kasikasima, Suriname. (© Trond Larsen)

Editor’s note: The UN climate conference wraps up at the end of this week in Bonn, Germany, where Conservation International is advising negotiators on the role of nature in curbing climate change. For those seeking to protect forests, the weekend brought some good news.

Suriname announces bid to stay green

It is often called “the greenest country on Earth.” Now, Suriname says it wants to stay that way.

About 94 percent of the tiny South American country’s land area is covered in tropical forests. Winston Lackin, a member of Suriname’s delegation to the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, announced Monday that the country would seek to maintain that level of forest cover.

It can’t do it alone: Suriname is seeking technical and financial assistance to avoid deforestation and help fulfill its commitments to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Given its extensive forest cover and its small population — 558,000 people — Suriname is a “carbon-negative” country. Yet the country is highly vulnerable to climate change, with its low-lying Caribbean coast — where 80 percent of the population lives — at risk from sea-level rise.

Suriname’s forests face increasing pressures from development and mining. In the past decade, deforestation in the country has “skyrocketed” due to soaring gold prices and weak governance, according to John Goedschalk, executive director of Conservation International’s (CI) Suriname office. In response, organizations including CI have turned to the country’s indigenous populations to help monitor and protect the country’s densely forested interior.

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Walmart doubles down on zero-deforestation pledge

The world’s largest retailer announced Sunday that it was reinforcing and strengthening its commitment to zero net deforestation.

The commitment by Walmart covers palm oil, pulp and paper private brand products, and Brazilian beef and soy — commodities that together are responsible for more than 70 percent of tropical deforestation, according to the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.

Laura Phillips, Walmart’s senior vice president for global sustainability, announced the company’s updated commitment Sunday during an event at the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany.

“To achieve our 2020 goal of zero-net deforestation, Walmart is working with our suppliers around the world,” said Phillips. “We are accomplishing this through innovative sourcing strategies and the use of technology to increase transparency and supply chain accountability.”

The company’s move updates its previous commitments by strengthening criteria for the kinds of palm oil and pulp products it accepts from suppliers, and by updating requirements for verifying avoided forest loss for Brazilian beef and soy.

Walmart’s foray into sustainability is nothing new: A partner with Conservation International since the early 2000s, the company’s efforts include improving the sustainability of products from apparel to fish, and it announced last year that it planned to be 50 percent powered by renewable energy by 2025.

Bruno Vander Velde is CI’s editorial director. 

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