Zero-deforestation commitments are voluntary undertakings by companies that they will eliminate deforestation associated with commodities that they produce, trade and/or sell.

Because companies define the terms, goals and implementation mechanisms for their own commitments, zero-deforestation commitments vary widely. This can make it challenging to assess progress in implementation, and the overall effectiveness of a company’s commitment.

In this article, the authors propose a set of universal criteria for assessing the potential effectiveness of a zero-deforestation commitment in reducing deforestation within a company’s supply chain, regionally and globally. They then apply the new criteria to evaluate 52 zero-deforestation commitments made by companies identified by Forest 500 as being exposed to high deforestation risk.

Framework for understanding the expected effectiveness of zero-deforestation commitments. See the article for details.

The results indicate that existing commitments converge with several criteria for effectiveness, but fall short in a few key ways. First, they cover just a small share of the global market for deforestation-risk commodities, which means that their global impact is likely to be small. Second, biome-wide implementation is only achieved in the Brazilian Amazon. Outside this region, implementation occurs mainly through certification programmes, which are not adopted by all producers and lack third-party near-real time deforestation monitoring.

Additionally, around half of all commitments target zero net deforestation rather than zero gross deforestation, and set future deadlines to begin implementation, both of which can reduce effectiveness. Zero-net-deforestation targets allow promises of future reforestation to compensate for current forest loss, while future implementation deadlines allow for pre-emptive clearing.

To increase the likelihood that commitments will lead to reduced deforestation at all scales, more companies should adopt zero-gross-deforestation targets with immediate implementation deadlines, along with clear sanction-based implementation mechanisms in biomes with high risk of forest to commodity conversion.