Corporate deforestation protection turns over a new LEAF

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Joel Makover

TREES, please

Under LEAF, tropical forest countries and states commit to preserving their forests in exchange for payments that catalyze sustainable economic development. Companies that meet LEAF’s requirements commit to buying emissions reductions credits from avoided deforestation. The whole process takes place according to established verification protocols and standards, with money paid out once reductions are verified.

When the group issued a call for proposals in April, it received an overwhelming response: More than 30 jurisdictions, from Brazil to Uganda to Vietnam, offered up more than a billion metric tons of potential reductions of CO2 equivalent — up to 2 billion acres of forests, a landmass larger than the European Union.

It’s important to note that LEAF isn’t just about stopping illegal deforestation. Much of what the program targets are government-sanctioned forest clearings that support economic development. To replace that income, LEAF’s finances flow directly to Indigenous peoples and forest communities via third-party accredited intermediaries, such as banks, NGOs and multilateral institutions.

“We want to make sure the money gets to the people who are responsible for those reductions,” explained Bloomgarden.

Under the LEAF scheme, payments to local communities will be made upon verification of their actual performance starting next year through 2026, measured against The REDD+ Environmental Excellency Standard — TREES for short — which specifies requirements for the quantification, monitoring, reporting and verification of emissions reductions from forestry projects.

“LEAF will only provide finance to those countries and states able to implement and maintain robust safeguards, showing that consultation has occurred, benefit-sharing plans are agreed and in place, and grievance mechanisms are working, as required by TREES’ safeguards,” according to the organization.

Hard to abate

LEAF seems to be taking root among a corps of companies, especially those in so-called hard-to-abate sectors, such as chemicals, aviation and steel production.

Bayer is one. “We have made a science-based target commitment,” Matthias Berninger, who heads public affairs, science and sustainability at the pharma and life sciences giant, told me. “We are on a 1.5-degree (Celsius) path. It sounds so easy but taking out about 5 percent of carbon emissions annually when your company is growing, especially in an area that is carbon-intensive, is not a small feat.”

Berninger explained that LEAF is one part of Bayer’s decarbonization strategy, as is required to be a coalition member. “You have to do a lot to reduce your carbon emissions in order to be considered to be a partner in LEAF.”

Among LEAF’s requirements is that member companies set a science-based target, join the UN Race to Zero campaign, publicly report their greenhouse gas emissions and provide an independently audited report on their use of emission reductions or carbon credits. The coalition has rejected a small number of companies that didn’t qualify, said Bloomgarden, although some subsequently were accepted after meeting the criteria.

For Bayer, LEAF aligned with some of the company’s geographic interests. “We have a huge presence in Brazil, not an easy country when it comes to curbing or stopping deforestation,” said Berninger. “So, we have leveraged our presence on the ground in support of LEAF and have leveraged our convening power to attract more partners to join LEAF. It’s not just writing a check, it’s actually a full-on engagement.”

Another coalition member is Delta Air Lines.

“For us, the LEAF Coalition is the future,” said Amelia DeLuca, the airline’s managing director for sustainability. “It’s the future of the carbon offsets market. It’s the future of what we can do together with public-private sector financing to be able to tackle the problem of deforestation. Then and only then do these net-zero commitments — especially from those of us that rely upon cleantech to achieve them — only then does it make sense to me. But first, we have to stop deforestation.”

For Delta, which committed in early 2020 to become carbon neutral, pledging to invest $1 billion toward that goal over 10 years, LEAF provided accountability over both the short and long term, DeLuca explained.

“I was not comfortable waiting until 2050 to say, ‘OK, we’ve made an impact,’ when there’s a significant problem that’s happening today at a global scale that we as a corporation have the opportunity to address.”

Bayer’s Berninger agreed: “There are some things we need to do now that can’t wait for 2030 or can’t be part of those sustainability announcement Ponzi schemes where people have lofty objectives that they don’t achieve.

“We have to go big or go home.”

All of this is music to Bloomgarden’s ears. “I think the LEAF value proposition has been very compelling,” he told me. “It’s because we’ve been very deliberate on addressing as many of the problems with the carbon offset market as we have identified over the last 20 years. The coalition approach gives a lot of confidence to these companies. There’s a real desire to do something and going in with like-minded companies, but also with NGOs and governments, builds great a lot of confidence.”

And confidence begets ambition. Bloomgarden aims to see that initial $1 billion of demand by jurisdictions grow by an order of magnitude in just a year.

“I’d like to be at $10 billion by COP27,” he said. “And then $50 billion. I don’t know how long it will take to get to $50 billion, but we don’t have a lot of time.”

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