U.S. Companies’ Complicity in Illegal Deforestation

Today, Mighty Earth joined with a number of civil society organizations in commending Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) for introducing the FOREST Act, a landmark plan to require importers of high-risk agricultural commodities and products to analyze supply chains and show evidence that their imports are not contributing to illegal deforestation. The Senate bill has several cosponsors including Senators Warren (D-MA), Booker (D-NJ), Heinrich (D-NM), Coons (D-DE), Merkeley (D-OR), Whitehouse (D-RI), and Murphy (D-CT). The joint press release announcing the introduction is here, and an open letter from Mighty Earth and many other civil society organizations is here.

In response, Glenn Hurowitz, CEO of Mighty Earth, released the following statement:

“It’s just common sense that companies should only sell legally-produced deforestation free goods to Americans. Most Americans don’t want to worry that biting into a Big Mac is endangering sloths or jaguars.   In an age of transparency and accountability, it’s simply no longer acceptable for companies to claim ignorance about the origins of their products. It’s not okay for U.S. companies to be complicit in deforestation.”

“Senator Schatz’s FOREST Act is a landmark piece of legislation that would require companies to understand where their products come from. And it will help them get there: the financial and technical help in this plan will go a long way toward rebuilding the sort of international partnerships we need to tackle the climate crisis.”

Fomenting a “Perfect Storm” to push companies to change: Q&A with Glenn Hurowitz

Fomenting a “Perfect Storm” to push companies to change: Q&A with Glenn Hurowitz

Fomenting a “Perfect Storm” to push companies to change: Q&A with Glenn Hurowitz

  • Over the past few years, Mighty Earth has emerged as one of the most influential advocacy groups when it comes pushing companies to clean up their supply chains. The group, has targeted companies that produce, trade, and source deforestation-risk commodities like beef, palm oil, cocoa, rubber, and soy.
  • Mighty Earth is led by Glenn Hurowitz, an activist who has spent the better part of the past 20 years advocating for forests and forest-dependent communities. In that capacity, Hurowitz has played a central role in pressing some of the world’s largest companies to adopt zero deforestation, peatlands, and exploitation (ZDPE) commitments.
  • Mighty Earth’s strategy is built on what Hurowitz calls the “Perfect Storm” approach: “We work to bring pressure on a target from multiple different angles in a relatively compressed time period to the point that it becomes irresistible: their customers, financiers, media, grassroots, digital, direct engagement with the company,” he explained. “It’s an application of the basic principles of classical military strategy, combined with social change theory and a lot of hard-won experience to the field of environmental campaigning.
  • Hurowitz spoke about how to drive change, the evolution of environmental activism, and a range of other topics during an August 2021 conversation with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.

Over the past five years, Mighty Earth has emerged as one of the most influential advocacy groups when it comes pushing companies to clean up their supply chains. The group, which had its origins as the Forest Heroes campaign before evolving into a standalone non-profit organization, has targeted companies that produce, trade, and source deforestation-risk commodities like beef, palm oil, cocoa, rubber, and soy.

Mighty Earth’s approach typically starts with research and analysis of how commodities move through supply chains. From there, the group creates colorful and hard-hitting campaigns that usually take aim at consumer-facing companies, like Kellogg or Burger King, or firms that sell to them, like American agribusiness giant Cargill or Indonesia’s Korindo. Mighty Earth will often collaborate with activist investors, like Green Century Capital Management, and leverage connections with media outlets to amplify the impact of its campaigns.

Mighty Earth is led by Glenn Hurowitz, an activist who has spent the better part of the past 20 years advocating for forests and forest-dependent communities. In that capacity, Hurowitz has played a central role in pressing some of the world’s largest companies to adopt zero deforestation, peatlands, and exploitation (ZDPE) commitments.

Glenn Hurowitz in Gabon
Glenn Hurowitz in Gabon

Arguably Hurowitz’s biggest “win” came in 2013, when he persuaded Kuok Khoon Hong, the CEO of Wilmar, the world’s largest palm oil trader, to meet with NGOs about its sourcing practices. Already under pressure from a range of campaigners, financiers, and other actors at the time, Wilmar eventually would go on to establish a ZDPE policy that ushered in a wave of commitments from other players in the sector.

“The successful negotiations with Wilmar were really just the culmination of a broader strategy and campaign that spanned the world,” Hurowitz told Mongabay. “Choosing Wilmar as the key target wasn’t the automatic decision it might seem now. Many people thought at the time that they were too big, too conservative, and too opaque to change.”

“But the most important factor was their size – they were the biggest, and therefore had the potential to unlock the transformation of the whole industry,” he continued. “Change Wilmar, you change the whole industry. As the biggest, they also had greater freedom to set the standard within the industry without worrying so much that their competitors would undermine them.”

Getting Wilmar to begin the shift away from business-as-usual practices involved what Hurowitz calls the “Perfect Storm” approach.

“We work to bring pressure on a target from multiple different angles in a relatively compressed time period to the point that it becomes irresistible: their customers, financiers, media, grassroots, digital, direct engagement with the company,” he explained. “It’s an application of the basic principles of classical military strategy, combined with social change theory and a lot of hard-won experience to the field of environmental campaigning. We apply principles like concentration of force, agility, and momentum to our campaigns, and our effort to change Wilmar and the whole of commodity agriculture industry really followed those principles.”

Rainforest clearing for oil palm in Gorontalo, Sulawesi in 2016. Photo credit: NASA Landsat
Rainforest clearing for oil palm in Gorontalo, Sulawesi in 2016. Photo credit: NASA Landsat

That being said, eight years on, there remains a gap between Wilmar’s ambitions — represented by its commitment — and the actual implementation of its policies: Like other companies that have adopted ZDPE commitments, Wilmar still has deforestation in its supply chain.

“[Wilmar] hasn’t always been a leader in every aspect of NDPE implementation,” said Hurowitz. “While they have helped lead the other companies to make enforcement of their palm oil policies much more rapid, they and others have not fulfilled repeated commitments to create a transparent industry-wide deforestation and human rights monitoring system. As a result, it still falls to our Rapid Response system and other NGO efforts to police Wilmar and its industry peers. With the industry’s vastly greater resources, that’s just not right.”

Hurowitz spoke about how to drive change, the evolution of environmental activism, and a range of other topics during an August 2021 conversation with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.


Mongabay: What inspired your interest in environmental issues? And what keeps you motivated?

Glenn Hurowitz: From a very early age, I’ve had a deep love of animals and Nature. I grew up in the Hudson Valley in New York State, one of the cradles of America’s early conservation movement. The river is three miles wide in my hometown. Most evenings, I got to watch the sun go down behind the red cliffs of the Palisades, one of the most stunning sites in Nature. Indeed, views like those were the inspiration for the famed Hudson River School of early American naturalist, romantic painting that itself helped inspire early American conservation.

The Hudson River itself is a big part of why I’m an environmentalist, and why I can maintain hope even in the face of great adversity. When I was a kid, the Hudson was beloved, but also seen as dirty and dangerous to swim in or eat fish from. It suffered from more than a century of industrial abuse, especially from General Electric and Monsanto’s dumping of PCBs and other toxic pollutants until 1977. The Indian Point nuclear power plant just miles from my home sucked up billions of fish and other organisms every year as part of its antiquated cooling system. I woke up every morning to a view of the Hudson, and I would think about how amazing it was, but also about the pollution.

But over the course of my childhood, I saw the fruits of citizens organizing to protect the environment. Folk singer Pete Seeger had launched the sloop Clearwater in the 1960s to bring attention to the river; his small band of citizens galvanized a movement that pressured the government to clean up the river. Under sustained pressure from the Riverkeeper organization and others, the federal government forced a clean-up of the PCBs. It took decades, but it succeeded. And just this year, after decades of citizen organizing and sustained pressure, the Indian Point nuclear power plant shut down. It’s now a real thrill for me to go swimming in the Hudson River, and know that doing so is safe. It’s pretty common to see bald eagles on the banks of the river, and even whales now visit the lower part of the river again.

So, I had the great benefit in my own community of being able to see that citizen organizing could make the impossible reality. I’ve really just tried to make that happen over and over again.

There were other personal experiences that probably had a big impact and maybe helped draw me to agricultural issues like going every summer to visit my grandparents and cousins in the small village in rural Ireland where my mom grew up. I got to work with my grandfather in his small farm and turf bog. I probably had more exposure to agriculture and rural life than most Americans.

Glenn Hurowitz cutting turf in Ireland with his grandfather Denis Canning.
Glenn Hurowitz cutting turf in Ireland with his grandfather Denis Canning. Hurowitz says he formed a deep connection with nature during his youth

The other major event in my early life that launched me on the trajectory I’m on today was more political: global warming hitting the headlines for the first time in a big way when I was 10 years old. James Hansen’s Congressional testimony about the existential perils of climate change got lots of attention. I became really distressed about it to the point that I would be in the middle of a sports game and instead of focusing on whacking the ball, would start to think about global warming.

Instead of plunging into despair, I decided to do something about it – and started lugging a giant trash bag around with me, collecting cans to recycle. I was always trying to encourage recycling at school, camp, and in different places. I’m not sure other kids quite knew what to make of me: I played sports, did all sorts of regular kid activities, dressed kind of preppy, but then would also have a big trash bag trailing me at times. I guess I was kind of like a little Greta Thunberg without the global following.

I also learned at school about how important rainforests were, and it really grabbed me. When I was in middle school, we had a “Run for the Rainforest.” The kids asked parents, friends, and others to sponsor them for a certain amount per lap run around the school playground. I dived into the fundraising with great gusto and ran my heart out, and we raised several thousand dollars for rainforest conservation. I didn’t really know what else to do about the rainforest, but from then on, I always read avidly about it and thought a lot about what was happening to the rainforest.

I went to Yale for college and pursued a strong interest in journalism by writing for The Yale Daily News. It was a wonderful learning experience in so many ways. I covered loads of topics, but tried to mix in environmental coverage whenever I could. I thought that exposing environmental issues through writing about them would lead to change. I wrote about inefficient buildings, pollution at Connecticut power plants, the impact of meat eating, gaps in environmental education, and other topics. But it was pretty hard for me to detect much concrete impact from my writing. So, my senior year, I got involved with the Yale Student Environmental Coalition and worked on campaigns to green our campus and make Big Oil’s campus recruiting efforts toxic. After graduating, I went overseas for a year and, among other things, lived on a farm working in organic agriculture. But then George W. Bush got elected, and I decided I should move back to the United States to try to help save the planet from him in some small way. The only problem was that I had no idea how to do it.

I called an organizer who had worked with our campus group and told her what I wanted to do. She recommended that I apply for a year-long environmental organizing fellowship called Green Corps. It takes recent college graduates and trains them in all the skills you need to run and win environmental campaigns from grassroots recruitment to working with the media to building coalitions. I remember going to the interview weekend, and being pretty sure I wouldn’t get in. There were so many people who had far more experience than I did in environmental organizing. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what “organizing” really meant. But they took a chance on me, and it turned out to be the most important year of my career.

The other fellows and I did a month of training at the beginning of the year in Boston in the basics of organizing and campaigning, and then were sent out to different states to help local campaigns on behalf of national or state environmental organizations. For my first assignment, I went to California with eight other Green Corps organizers to support a Greenpeace campaign with a goal of securing $2 billion from the State of California and community college districts to shift funds away from natural gas and towards clean energy.

The core of the job was getting people involved at the grassroots. That meant giving them a sense of their own potential to make a difference on really big issues. I quickly saw evidence that it worked. One of my jobs was to help organize a lobby day at the State Capitol in Sacramento where we asked the volunteers we’d recruited to meet with their representatives. We held more than sixty meetings. At the end of the day, we gathered with our volunteers in the hallways of the State Capitol to recap and celebrate the day. While we were cheering and chanting, California’s Energy Czar, our main target, sought us out in the hallways to debate us for an hour. It struck me that the fact that he was talking to us seemed to bode well even if he was arguing with us. The very next week, California announced its first big investment in clean energy. Ultimately, our organizing and Greenpeace’s continued efforts secured way more than the $2 billion we were initially seeking. That was one of the early large investments in solar that helped drive lower costs around the world.

One of the great things about Green Corps was it gave you the opportunity to work in a really diverse array of communities. I worked for a while in Watts and East Los Angeles to recruit community college students to advocate for solar in their campuses; later, I went to Miami, and then North Dakota and Pittsburgh – so I had the opportunity to work in majority Black and Chicano communities, but also almost completely rural Great Plains communities. I must say that what struck me in those experiences was the commonality between different communities’ struggle to protect their environments, not the differences. Sure, there were different contexts, characters, histories, and issues. But for the most part I found that the fights were fundamentally between people of compassion and the capacity to imagine that things might not be always as they were working to overcome greed, fear, and more than anything inertia inside big institutions. This conflict is often expressed as “organized people vs. organized money,” and it is that. But it’s as often as much a battle of conviction, will, and backbone.

Glenn Hurowitz in Gabon with local partners
Glenn Hurowitz in Gabon with local partners

Organizing is hard work and full of challenges, and I was just learning how to do it. But it was worth it when people got involved in a really deep way, sometimes making a lifelong commitment to the environment. It was thrilling when people would overcome their fears and speak at a government meeting, or even just take a small step like writing a letter. Those first steps sometimes led to a lifetime of activism. I think one of the things I’ve found most exciting about my career as an organizer is when you meet up with a volunteer years later and find out that they’re still involved. If you can identify with that excitement, and have a passion for the planet, you might want to consider a career in organizing.

Since finishing Green Corps, I’ve worked on state, national, and international campaigns. Mostly, I’m just applying those very basic lessons of environmental organizing I learned in Green Corps at a grander scale.

Mongabay: Has environmental activism changed in terms of its approach or tactics since you got your start?

Glenn Hurowitz: I believe that the principles of successful activism and organizing are essentially timeless. Depth over breadth. Commitment over flash. Strategy over tactics.

Of course, the tools of organizing have changed to an extent. When I first started organizing, I did have a cell phone and mainly used email, but a lot of reporters and politicians still used fax machines. Text messaging and social media are more important, but a challenge with most digital organizing at this stage is that for many targets, high volumes of communication alone aren’t likely to change them. Politicians and big companies are somewhat inured to traditional email petitions.

There are of course instances of social media contributing to campaign wins. Most companies and politicians are sensitive to their online image, though some are developing a bit more of a thick cyber-skin.

Logging concession in Indonesia. Photo credit: Yudhi Mahendra / Mighty Earth
Logging concession in Indonesia. Photo credit: Yudhi Mahendra / Mighty Earth

I believe that activism, including digital activism, carries great power and great responsibility. A 22-year-old organizer can recruit a handful of volunteers and change a senator’s vote, or a small NGO can do an exposé that sparks the transformation of an industry. But like any form of power, it can be abused. There’s a risk of crossing the line from movement to mob. I think because the barrier to entry is so low, social media can breed irresponsibility in activism that can be turned towards bullying. For instance, we’re working on deadly serious life and death issues: the survival of an endangered species, an Indigenous community whose defenders are threatened with murder, child and slave labor, the fate of the planet. We know the stakes are high.

And yet, we very rarely call for anybody to be fired. We pursue transformation, not just a temporarily satisfying change in personnel. Online, it sometimes feels like calling for someone to be fired is the first step. I find that even with the most serious issues, changing a CEO or politician through organizing can create long-term transformation. In our work, we’re also tackling companies far down the supply chain, and governments that may not have the same sensitivities to elite Western cultural morays. We’re not shy about applying intense pressure, but our aim ultimately is not just the fleeting satisfaction of accountability – it’s change.

Mongabay: You’ve played a leading role in the push to get companies to adopt No deforestation (NDPE) policies. A 2015 Grist article provided very good background on your pivotal meeting with Wilmar’s CEO Kuok Khoon Hong in 2013. Can you re-cap the approach you took in persuading Kuok?

Glenn Hurowitz: The successful negotiations with Wilmar were really just the culmination of a broader strategy and campaign that spanned the world. Choosing Wilmar as the key target wasn’t the automatic decision it might seem now. Many people thought at the time that they were too big, too conservative, and too opaque to change. They’re the world’s largest palm oil trader. Asia’s largest agribusinesses, are owned by one of the wealthiest families in the world, and the dossier of their environmental and human rights issues was thick. Based on research and interactions with the company, we felt that although that description was accurate, ultimately, they were a professional and dynamic company focused on their business. But the most important factor was their size – they were the biggest, and therefore had the potential to unlock the transformation of the whole industry. More than 80% of palm oil producers sold to them. Change Wilmar, you change the whole industry. As the biggest, they also had greater freedom to set the standard within the industry without worrying so much that their competitors would undermine them.

Once we identified them as the target, we had to figure out how to change them – and do so in a way that would create momentum for the transformation of the palm oil industry and commodity agriculture more broadly. The approach we used with Wilmar and Kuok was the same one we’ve used over and over again with dozens of palm oil, rubber, chocolate, steel, and meat companies: what we call our Perfect Storm approach. We work to bring pressure on a target from multiple different angles in a relatively compressed time period to the point that it becomes irresistible: their customers, financiers, media, grassroots, digital, direct engagement with the company. It’s an application of the basic principles of classical military strategy, combined with social change theory and a lot of hard-won experience to the field of environmental campaigning. We apply principles like concentration of force, agility, and momentum to our campaigns, and our effort to change Wilmar and the whole of commodity agriculture industry really followed those principles.

Many organizations contributed to creating this perfect storm with Wilmar. Rainforest Foundation Norway persuaded Nordic investors to divest from Wilmar and other palm oil companies. Previously, most institutional investors had just politely urged Wilmar and other companies to consider perhaps not engaging in quite such egregious destruction. Once divestment started, the palm oil companies started to take other investors more seriously and worry that they couldn’t just wine and dine them in Singapore and tell them how much they loved Mother Earth.

Protest outside Kellogg's HQ in Michigan over ties to Wilmar (left). Glenn Hurowitz, Kuok Khoon Hong, and Scott Poynton (right)
Protest outside Kellogg’s HQ in Michigan over ties to Wilmar (left). Glenn Hurowitz, Kuok Khoon Hong, and Scott Poynton (right)

One of the most important investor actors was Green Century Capital Management, which has a strategic sense of how to use financial influence to change companies and industries. Their shareholder advocate joined an earnings call with the CEO of Kellogg, one of Wilmar’s joint venture partners, and asked the Kellogg CEO why he was jeopardizing his multi-billion-dollar brand by partnering with one of the world’s great forest destroyers. It made the financial press, and Kellogg’s CEO started asking Wilmar’s CEO the same questions.

Grassroots work made a big difference. Our organizers also went to Michigan where Kellogg’s was based to recruit volunteers on campus and in neighborhoods with lots of Kellogg’s employees to ask why Kellogg’s was partnering with a company that destroyed Sumatran tiger habitat when its mascot was Tony the Tiger. Soon, hundreds of students were asking Kellogg’s recruiter the same question. And finally, when haze from deforestation linked to palm oil hit Singapore, we went on television to tell people in Singapore and across the region that the haze wasn’t just a phenomenon for which society as a whole was responsible, but that Wilmar held outsized responsibility.

Faced with this pressure, Wilmar’s CEO Khoon Hong wrote me a letter which was fairly defensive. I saw it as an opportunity. I wrote back and told him he had played such a leading role in Asia’s economic success, but that now he had a unique opportunity to play an equally leading role in protecting Asia’s environment. Pretty soon, we were emailing back and forth, and he invited me to Singapore to meet him.

When we met at Wilmar’s headquarters, he delivered a 15-minute diatribe about how unfair NGOs were. I couldn’t believe I’d flown for 24 hours to Singapore to listen to that. But once he got that off his chest, he was very open-minded when we talked about solutions – and in particular the potential of the palm oil industry to focus future expansion on the tens of millions of acres of previously deforested degraded lands instead of on pristine rainforest and carbon-rich peatland. We also talked about how this wasn’t just about commitments, but about implementation – and that to succeed they would need an expert implementation partner. We urged them to bring in The Forest Trust, TFT (now Earthworm Foundation), which had already worked with another major palm oil company, GAR and Greenpeace to develop the High Carbon Stock methodology to channel development onto previously deforested lands. We felt that unless they had a credible implementation partner, any commitment would be meaningless. They were skeptical, but I kept at it, and finally persuaded them to talk to TFT’s then-Executive Director Scott Poynton. I had to keep banging the drum and flew to Singapore again but felt that when Khoon Hong agreed to have Scott join our conversations, it meant they were serious and that we were likely to succeed.

Even with that, it was still a roller coaster of negotiations. I flew to Singapore five times that year to work through the issues and seal the deal. Khoon Hong was understandably nervous that his competitors wouldn’t join them. We worked with Wilmar, Earthworm and Unilever to convene a meeting with all the major competitors, and the competitors just reinforced that fear by refusing to go along. We ultimately had to persuade Khoon Hong to take a leap of faith.

Deforestation for palm oil production in Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Deforestation for palm oil production in Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

It was touch and go but helped by the fact that other organizations like Greenpeace and SumOfUS were also beginning to add pressure. The pressure from investors was also resonating. And at a key moment, I was able to send him photos of a huge crowd of our volunteers protesting outside Kellogg’s headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan in the middle of a very cold weekday in November. Despite the understandable fear Wilmar had about changing the way they did business, the combined pressure also created risk for them of not acting.

At the end of the day, however, adopting such a strong environmental and human rights policy, applying it to Wilmar’s hundreds of suppliers, and investing millions of dollars in implementation was an act of courage. I think Khoon Hong deserves enormous credit for it. He didn’t go for half steps, and he almost immediately made implementation of their sustainability policy a priority within the company. That set the stage for progress across the industry.

Mongabay: Of course since then, like most other big agribusiness companies, Wilmar has struggled to implement its NDPE. How would you characterize the progress Wilmar in terms of where you expected it to be by this point in time? And what is still left for it to do?

Glenn Hurowitz: In many ways, Wilmar continued to be a leader in the industry. Their forest and human rights commitment laid down the gauntlet for the industry to adopt Wilmar’s No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) policy. Within months, they went further and completely disrupted commodity agriculture’s tradition of opacity by posting the identity and location of their suppliers online, creating pressure on their major competitors to do the same. And they’ve been willing, with pushing from us and others, to take leadership on other key implementation issues. At some level, to paraphrase Joe Biden, ‘we shouldn’t compare them to the Almighty, but to the alternative’. It’s difficult for me to imagine the enormous progress in the palm oil industry without Wilmar. Most recently, they were the only major palm oil trader to join the Rimba Collective, in which major companies in the palm oil supply chain finally stepped up to not just avoid deforestation, but to invest in conservation and restoration over the long term. It took many years to convince the industry to go this next step, and typically Wilmar was the first one willing to take a leap of faith.

While that’s the big picture, Wilmar has been far from perfect – and hasn’t always been a leader in every aspect of NDPE implementation. Most of its challenges are ones it has shared with pretty much every other palm oil company, but that’s not necessarily an excuse for a company with its financial resources. While they have helped lead the other companies to make enforcement of their palm oil policies much more rapid, they and others have not fulfilled repeated commitments to create a transparent industry-wide deforestation and human rights monitoring system. As a result, it still falls to our Rapid Response system and other NGO efforts to police Wilmar and its industry peers. With the industry’s vastly greater resources, that’s just not right.

Despite years of advocacy, as far as we can tell, Wilmar has done almost nothing to advance forest and human rights protection in the soy supply chain. That’s a real failure for one of the biggest soy importers to Asia. They’ve made billions of dollars in profit off their soy imports. They know how to transform industries. Merely extending enforcement of the scope of its NDPE policy to soy would have a similar transformative effect as in palm oil.

Massive illegal forest clearance in the Gran Chaco as seen from the air in Argentina. Image by Jim Wickens, Ecostorm via Mighty Earth.

One of the other areas where they lag is in extending the scope of its NDPE policy to all business activities of the groups they buy from. We have filed repeated grievances with Wilmar for sourcing from groups that continue to clear rainforests for other commodities. They refused to act on the deforestation because it wasn’t directly for palm oil, for example – they simply classify such cases as ‘ineligible grievances’ on its website.

One of Wilmar’s largest palm oil suppliers is Astra Agro Lestari, part of the Astra Group which is owned by the British conglomerate Jardines Matheson. We found that a gold mining division of Astra, only bought in late 2018, is actively destroying the rainforest habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan, the most endangered great ape species in the world. This is disappointing on its own merit, and also because several other companies that source palm from Astra such as Hershey’s, PZ Cussons, Unilever, COFCO International, Oleon, for example, are pressuring the group even if they don’t buy gold from its mine. For example, Unilever grievance log states: ‘we have stated our concerns on the allegations to the company and encouraged to halt developments before HCS/HCV assessments have been completed and submitted for independent review’.

Wilmar needs to urgent extend the scope of its NDPE policy across all commodities and to all business activities of the groups they source from. When that happens, we could see greater ambition from its industry peers.

Mongabay: What has been the biggest lesson for you after a decade or so of NDPE engagement with companies?

Glenn Hurowitz: Enforcement, enforcement, enforcement. I don’t think the companies would have done anywhere near as much as they did without monitoring and real sustained campaign and commercial pressure. One of the ways we’ve worked to drive industry-wide implementation of these commitments is through our Rapid Response monitoring system. Our team continually monitors approximately 30 million hectares of land in Southeast Asia for deforestation and we do similar monitoring of the meat industry in South America. We then file alerts with the agribusinesses alerting them to instances of deforestation. The good news is they respond. The program has driven more than 250 supply chain discontinuations in palm oil, and dozens of new forest and human rights policies by palm oil producers.

Oil palm plantation. Photo credit: Logging concession in Indonesia. Photo credit: Yudhi Mahendra / Mighty Earth
Oil palm plantation. Photo credit: Logging concession in Indonesia. Photo credit: Yudhi Mahendra / Mighty Earth

We believe this program is a major driver of the extraordinary success in reducing deforestation for palm oil, and in Southeast Asia more broadly. The other important ingredient is campaigns that we and allies have done, particularly in Asian markets for palm oil. Many of the remaining rogue actors who have resisted pressure from the mainstream traders, consumer companies, and financiers thought they could continue business as usual because they served mainly Asian markets. That’s been a myth. The reality is that the public in many Asian markets is at least as concerned as Westerners about these issues, and we’ve seen great success in changing companies there too.

Overall, the combination of monitoring and campaigns has made a major contribution to success in reducing deforestation for palm oil. In Indonesia, deforestation has declined from about one million acres per year in 2014 to 93,900 in 2020, the fourth straight year it was less than 250,000 acres. If sustained over ten years, this reduction translates to about 1.6 gigatons of reduced pollution – and there are thousands of orangutans, tree kangaroos, and birds of paradise alive today because of it. This decline in deforestation in the palm oil industry, complemented by some governmental actions, have contributed to an overall decline in deforestation for palm oil to its lowest level in more than 30 years. I hope the monitoring and campaigns can continue.

It’s a huge environmental and climate success and one that’s gotten too little attention. That’s a shame because there are major lessons for changing other industries too. We’ve seen huge progress in palm oil, pulp and paper and rubber, and the beginnings of action in cocoa. But the meat industry is a bigger driver of deforestation than all of the other commodities combined. We’ve tried to bring the successful model to the meat industry, but there’s been relatively little funding for advocacy to drive that transformation. We are seeing growing interest in this area from our NGO allies, especially after the raging Amazon fires of the past few years, but there just needs to be an order of magnitude more funding for this work.

Mongabay: Over the past decade, there seems to be much greater awareness in the conservation sector about the contributions Indigenous peoples and local communities have made toward achieving conservation outcomes. What has driven this shift?

Glenn Hurowitz: There are a lot of studies that show clearly in many places that Indigenous communities are the best defenders of the forests. It makes sense: there’s just no substitute for having a community that cares so much about the place they live that they’re willing to fight and in all too many cases die for it. I think most people will understand that. In our work, where local communities are ready to fight for their land, we usually see industrial deforestation projects run into huge obstacles from the resistance from local communities. We try to make sure the voices of those communities are heard – and that impacts on them are documented.

Heavy equipment owned by Korindo’s subsidiary, PT Papua Agro Lestari, collect wood to be burned (stacking), at its concession in Jair sub-district, Boven Digoel district, Papua, Indonesia. Image courtesy of Mighty Earth.

Of course, on the ground, defining who is Indigenous and local can be complicated. There are Indigenous groups who live a fairly traditional lifestyle, depend on the forest and its bounty for their livelihood and culture. Most people would agree that they’re an Indigenous community. But there are often groups of illegal miners, ranchers, loggers, and wildlife traffickers, sometimes with the backing of major financial interests or governments, who claim the mantle of Indigenous or local communities. Sometimes we also find that there are Indigenous and local communities on different sides of an issue. And there are differences between Indigenous and local communities’ legal rights, modes of organization, and culture across regions, religions, and countries. So, it requires a lot of local knowledge and partnership to get this right. But the good news is that there is much more attention being paid to it by civil society at least. There needs to be way more attention to it from companies and governments.

Mongabay: We’ve heard a lot more about stakeholder inclusivity in recent years, especially in the context of the past year between the social justice movement in the U.S. and criticisms of colonial practices among some big NGOs. How is this manifesting in the work you do?

Glenn Hurowitz: First off, the opinion that really matters here in how common this phenomenon is those of truly impacted communities, so I’d defer to them.

But from my personal perspective, it’s worth saying: the colonial and exploitative behavior we see every day in our work comes primarily from big agribusinesses. It just doesn’t compare to any mistakes big NGOs may make. Cargill, JBS, and other meat companies are still driving deforestation on a vast scale. Their suppliers have burned and bulldozed millions of acres of ancient rainforest and savannah to make way for giant plantations and ranches, dispossessed Indigenous communities, and then export that meat and feed to be sold in supermarkets like Tesco, Carrefour and Stop & Shop. Agribusiness interests in Brazil are advancing legislation to make land-grabbing even easier. I’ve heard executives inside the Jardine Matheson conglomerate express utter contempt for the aspirations of Indigenous communities who had been displaced by their palm oil operations to get just a small fraction of their land back. The chocolate industry continues to blithely buy cocoa from suppliers in Côte d’Ivoire whose farmers make an average of less than a dollar a day, child labor is widespread, and there has been repeated use slavery. Cargill and Nestle just argued in the Supreme Court that even if they had profited off of slavery in their supply chain, they shouldn’t be held responsible under US law. That is true colonialism and exploitation.

Having said that, big NGOs and little NGOs must make sure they’re inclusive too, and I include us in that group. It’s probably worth saying: We’re not a big NGO, but we navigate these issues too. The biggest challenge we face here is that it’s a lot easier to be inclusive and show inclusivity when operating in a relatively free society. Even where democracy and civil liberties are not fully developed, if there’s a measure of freedom, our campaigns can open doors for local civil society and Indigenous communities through international campaigns on big corporate interests.

Deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire. Image credit: Mighty Earth
Deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire. Image credit: Mighty Earth

One of my proudest moments at Mighty Earth was when I visited Gabon in 2017 after our campaign to persuade Olam to stop deforestation for palm oil and rubber in the country and more broadly throughout its global supply chains. We’d worked to persuade the Singapore sovereign wealth fund, its owners, other Asian financial institutions, and customers of Olam in Europe and elsewhere to persuade the company to stop destroying forests. We also filed a complaint against Olam with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The strategy worked. Olam agreed to stop deforestation. But there was a lot more to address a range of issues affecting local communities, and ensure a more broadly supportive context for conservation in the industry. The company was very reluctant to meet with our civil society allies and local community representatives. They tried to confine our meetings with government ministers and members of the parliament to me. But of course, I insisted that I would head home without meeting the ministers if our local allies couldn’t join. Pretty quickly, the invitation was extended to include them. And I think the government at least was glad that it was. Our local partners were unsurprisingly able to bring a level of knowledge far deeper than what I had about sustainable development in Gabon with everyone from the Agriculture to Defense ministers far deeper than what I was. We were able to help bring international commercial leverage to open doors for them. But once the doors were open, they knew way more about local issues in Gabon than we did. We were able to step back and let them lead.

When I joined our local partners on a visit to Olam’s plantations, one of them said to me “You know, we’ve been trying to raise these issues with Olam and the government for years, but they wouldn’t listen. You’re based in Washington, DC, you’re working in Singapore and Europe, and somehow now they’ll listen.” That was really encouraging to hear; I felt like we were doing our job.

In many countries, however, working with local civil society became more challenging during the Trump era. There has been a tidal wave of nationalistic authoritarianism sweeping many of the countries we work in. The United States, while imperfect and with a troubling record in many countries, had also acted as a constraint on the more authoritarian impulses of many governments. The Trump administration’s retreat from issues of human rights and democracy gave many governments what they perceived to be a blank check to do to do what’s convenient for them towards civil society groups in their own countries, as well as their international allies.

A tractor works to turn deforested land into soy fields in São Desidério, Bahia state, Brazil in 2017. Credit: Jim Wickens Ecostorm/Mighty Earth.

For us, this has meant navigating a much more complex landscape. Civil society organizations and Indigenous communities that once felt free to speak up now face real pressure from companies and governments alike. In this context, it falls paradoxically much more to international organizations like us to try and use our influence with the private sector, international governments, and the public to continue to represent the voices of local communities even when they are constrained in their ability to speak up themselves. This can lead to accusations of international interference from the likes of Bolsonaro. But it is sadly necessary when government intimidates its own citizens.

Although the United States has a dramatically better government now, and the Biden administration has exceeded our expectations on so many fronts, it will likely take some time to restore America’s credibility as a reliable advocate for basic civil liberties.

Mongabay: Shifting gears a bit, I’d like to ask about Mighty Earth, which you started. What have been the biggest lessons for you in the journey of starting and growing a non-profit?

Glenn Hurowitz: In general, the more you can do to decide what kind of culture you want or need and make sure you’re both hiring for those qualities and cultivating them are critical.

It’s important to be really clear about what you really value. For us, we’re obsessed with impact, and aren’t shy about that. We want to make the most impact per dollar of any organization in the world. To achieve impact, we believe we need to be principled, agile, and entrepreneurial. We need people who are just thrilled to work at a place with those qualities. We want people who thrive in a culture of freedom and responsibility. It’s not for everyone, but we believe it drives outsized change.

This approach goes beyond “Values.” You can go to almost any company or non-profit organization and see values up on the wall like integrity and respect. That’s great. I share those values, and I think most people in our organization do too and try to live them. But they’re not what distinguishes us. What we hope distinguishes us above all else is impact.

Glenn Hurowitz, Kate Brooks, and crew in Batang Toru, Sumatra.
Glenn Hurowitz, Kate Brooks, and crew in Batang Toru, Sumatra.

There are three books I recommend for any organizational leaders, whether you’re the CEO or a manager: Good to Great by Jim Collins; No Rules Rules by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer; and The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni. We aspire to live up to the models in those books.

Our greatest challenge is funding. There’s an incredibly insightful line from Tom Tierney of the Bridgespan Group that’s quoted in Good to Great for the Social Sector, a monograph that accompanies the original: “the social sectors do not have rational capital markets that deliver resources to those who deliver the best results.” Success in our work doesn’t necessarily translate into more funding.

For us, we’ve definitely encountered this challenge. I think we’ve had a great track record of translating relatively limited resources into gigaton-scale results. But we’ve relied mainly on big institutional donors, and that can come with some baggage. Since we started pretty small, it’s an efficient way of raising money – especially for us, where we work on issues that are of outsized importance, but may not have yet hit the same chord with general funders or the public yet.

For instance, we work on Nature conservation which represents one third of the near-term solution to climate change, but gets less than two percent of the funding of that goes towards energy. We work on heavy industry decarbonization, which represents a quarter of global climate pollution, but which has received almost no attention. The institutional funders are the ones that tend to be aware of those issues and interested in sophisticated solutions.

A scorched animal skull revealed in the aftermath of a fire. Fire is often used as a tool for converting forests and other native vegetation to croplands in Brazil, destroying biodiversity. Photo by Jim Wickens, Ecostorm / Mighty Earth.

However, while some of our donors embrace advocacy, some of the larger funders have a temperamental discomfort with it. They love the transformative results, but don’t like the messiness: they value academic dispassion, and activists are passionate. Companies and governments can get mad when they’re attacked. They’d be way happier if just developing a new technology or a really smart policy was enough. Those things can definitely help, but they’re not enough. It’s a rare technology that can reach economies of scale without companies and governments facing pressure to deploy it. Sometimes, even when the economics work, inertia prevent its deployment. I would even argue that advocacy can be a way more efficient way to get governments and the private sector to themselves develop new technologies or policy solutions, rather than have philanthropies with more limited resources try to do it themselves.

Ultimately, I agree with the idea that philanthropy do more to fund successful organizations, and not just projects. Philanthropy gives that concept a lot of lip service, but there are relatively few funders that actually follow it. I think we’re starting to see some donors who are actually starting to shift in that direction, but there needs to be more.

Mongabay: What are some areas that you’re eyeing in for future work?

Glenn Hurowitz: Our top priority is the transformation of the global protein sector. The meat industry causes more deforestation, more climate pollution, more water pollution, and more displacement of Indigenous communities than all other agricultural industries combined. On climate alone, meat produces more pollution than the entire transportation sector. The meat industry is also responsible for slaughtering wolves, mountain lions, grizzly bears and other animals that they believe threaten their flocks. We’ve got to move away from such an unsustainable model of getting our food.

How are we doing it: We’re of course working to transform the private sector protein industry. That means getting supermarkets like Carrefour and Tesco to stop selling meat from forest destroyers and climate polluters like Cargill and JBS. But it also means persuading those supermarkets to get away from the problems with meat altogether by offering more plant-based and cultivated protein options. These are increasingly affordable and tasty, and it’s possible to envision a world where people can get protein without the destruction and suffering created by JBS and Cargill.

Gran Chaco forest in Argentina being cleared for a soy plantation. Image by Jim Wickens, Ecostorm via Mighty Earth.

There is also a major role for government. In the United States, the Biden administration is doing outstanding work on so many fronts to drive a shift to clean energy. The USDA is working to protect Alaska’s Tongass Rainforest and other critical public lands. But when it comes to the meat industry, they’re still celebrating the opening of beef processing plants that not only cook the climate but were one of the early super spreaders of Covid. I wish they would put equal energy into funding a Manhattan Project-scale project to shift to plant-based and cultivated protein. There’s probably no greater step the Biden administration and Congress could take to act on climate.

Mongabay: What advice would you give someone who wants to get involved?

Glenn Hurowitz: A large percentage of people care passionately about the issues we work on. Maybe they’re concerned about climate change, or they want to help species like bears, sloths and orangutans, or they’ve seen the impact plantation agriculture can have on Indigenous communities. Perhaps they’ve had a chance to travel to some amazing place either in their home country or overseas. But it’s hard to know what to do about it. And most nature and environmental films either focus on the beauty (and cuteness) of Nature or just delve into a depressing analysis of the problem. There are few that offer solutions or follow those who are working to do something about it.

Our job as organizers and campaigners is to give people something real and meaningful to do that will make a difference on the issues they care about. It can be at the most basic level giving a donation or sending a tweet. But if people want something more meaningful, they can take it to the next level and come to an in-person activist event. Of course, the next level from that is dedicating your life and career to this work. It’s the most rewarding pursuit possible.

Conservation is the only way that humans can truly brush up against the eternal. A successful company might create a fortune that lasts a few generations; a great painting might be famous for a few centuries; a statue might delight for thousands of years. But they will all perish. But saving a species or 10 species will allow life to survive and flourish for millions and billions of years. There is no other field that offers the opportunity for that kind of positive legacy.

Logging concession in Indonesia. Photo credit: Yudhi Mahendra / Mighty Earth
Logging concession in Indonesia. Photo credit: Yudhi Mahendra / Mighty Earth

Find something you can do to make a difference and do it. Of course, I would certainly encourage people to sign up with Mighty Earth, but there are lots of organizations from National Wildlife Federation to Sierra Club to Greenpeace to Sunrise and SumOfUs that are doing outstanding work – as well as loads of local organizations.

If you are interested in making a career of this work, there are great opportunities to get started: here in America, the Green Corps fellowship and Environment America are amazing ways to learn skills for a lifetime and enter a wonderful community. Sunrise has really created many opportunities for young people to get involved. Try and keep trying. If you are determined, you’ll find a way at the local, state, national or even global level. And there’s nothing more rewarding.

Mongabay: What would you say to young people who are distressed about the current trajectory of the planet?

Glenn Hurowitz: First, I know how you feel. It would be insane not to feel distressed. More than a decade ago, I took time off of active organizing and campaigning to write a book about politics. The thing about writing is that you hope it will have an impact, but it’s a long time between conception and publication. It was a worthwhile project, but I remember that being away from regular involvement in advocacy made me just focus on how daunting the problems were.

But here’s the amazing thing. Getting involved in environmental campaigns can have an impact far beyond what you think possible. There’s no better medicine for distress than doing something about it. We’re not a huge organization. But in large measure because of the activist energy and power that fuels us, we’ve helped change dozens of companies and driven decarbonization of whole industries. I think there are many endangered species that are alive today because of our work. We can point to specific forests that probably would have been bulldozed if we hadn’t intervened. Companies and governments are sensitive to their image -and especially when people of courage find strategically powerful levers to influence them, it really works. We had activists show up at Mandarin Oriental hotels in elephant costumes to change the second largest palm oil company in Indonesia – and it worked.

I think one important caveat is that individuals shouldn’t try to take on the whole burden of trying to “save the planet.” It’s too overwhelming and it doesn’t make sense. No one person or organization is going to do that alone. But you can make an outsized difference on a particular forest, the survival of a particular species, or even a big company, industry, or government policy with persistence and passion. And doing that will then contribute to the planet as a whole.

Contributing to this kind of impact, or just being in the fight, eliminates the existential dread that, while entirely justifiable, can also be utterly paralyzing. Being a happy warrior is good for the soul.

Notorious palm oil and timber company Korindo expelled by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

Baca dalam Bahasa Indonesia

Jakarta, Indonesia — The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a leading global forestry certification organization, announced that it has decided to terminate the certification of Korindo Group, a notorious Korean-Indonesian logging and palm oil conglomerate operating in Papua and North Maluku, Indonesia.

The decision follows a 2017 Mighty Earth complaint, and efforts by multiple organizations across Indonesia, Korea, and the world to expose the company’s wrongdoing.

“The FSC’s expulsion of Korindo provides more evidence that despite all its grandiose claims that it is embracing sustainability, the company still cannot rouse itself to meet basic standards for environmentally responsible business in the 21st Century,” said Mighty Earth advocate Annisa Rahmawati. “The FSC's decision should serve as a warning to any company that thinks they can use greenwashing and legal intimidation to destroy forests and trample on Indigenous communities’ rights with impunity.”

The FSC Complaints Panel found Korindo had destroyed more than 30,000 hectares of rainforest (equivalent to 42,000 football fields) in the previous five years and committed violations of Indigenous peoples’ traditional and human rights, in contravention of FSC standards.  Papua is the largest intact rainforest in Indonesia, and one of the most important landscapes for the climate in the world.

Nevertheless, the FSC had retained a ‘conditional association’ of Korindo, requiring Korindo to enact improvement and remediation measures.  The FSC’s Secretary General  announced today it was terminating the association based on Korindo’s failure to agree to procedures to independently verify its compliance. In a statement about the decision, Korindo said it would try to regain certification.

“Although the FSC found that Korindo had violated its policy through vast deforestation and abuse of Indigenous people’s rights, Korindo has continued to spread false information about the severity of its actions and has used its continued association with FSC to greenwash its bad practices,” Rahmawati said. “With today’s announcement, Korindo can’t hide behind the FSC anymore."

In addition to failing to meet its obligations to FSC, Korindo has sought to silence its critics by filing a SLAPP lawsuit in Germany against civil society organizations who have worked to expose its wrongdoing and call for remedy.   As a result, a jury of distinguished European parliamentarians and expert NGOs – empanelled by the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) – awarded the Korindo Group the dubious title of International Bully of the Year.

“Korindo is clearly not acting in good faith.  If Korindo is serious about improving its environmental and human rights performance to address its violations of FSC’s standards, it needs to restore the forest habitat it destroyed, pay restitution to affected Papuan Indigenous communities and stop its legal harassment of civil society groups who have tried to stand up to its abuses,” said Hye Lyn Kim, a Campaigner with the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements.

High quality photos and video of Mighty Earth’s investigation into Korindo communities are available for download here.

プレス・リリース 環境保護団体マイティ・アース 報告書「隠蔽の煙幕:住友商事の『カーボンニュートラル』失敗の数々」を発表 気候変動行動計画での住友商事への株主提案の必要性示す


(ワシントンDC)– 本日、公開されたマイティ・アース(Mighty Earth)の報告(英文)では、住友商事株式会社が世界各地の事業活動で、最も深刻な環境汚染や環境破壊の原因となる形態のエネルギー生産に深く関与していることを詳細に述べ、今回の株主提案がどれほどの緊急性を帯びるものであるのかを強調している。「隠蔽の煙幕:住友商事の『カーボンニュートラル』失敗の数々」と題された同報告では、同社は大規模な炭鉱を所有し、深刻な環境汚染を引き起こす石炭火力発電所を新たに東南アジアに建造し、石炭火力発電所で混焼する木材を輸入するなど、様々な事業分野において、日本の産業の石炭への依存を最も強力に支えている企業の1つであることが紹介している













環境保護団体Market Forcesの福澤恵氏からも、同様の声が上がっている。「私たちは臨界点にいるため、パリ協定の目標を達成するのに必要な短期、中期目標が緊要です。住友商事の現在の計画はこの目標を達成するのには明らかに不十分です」と福澤は述べる。さらに福澤は「住友商事の計画は、気候にとって大惨事を引き起こすものであるのみならず、パリ協定に沿っていない、整合性のないタイムラインの化石燃料資産の撤退計画を考えると、座礁資産リスクへのエクスポージャーを抱える投資家に対しても危険である」と警鐘を鳴らしている。




マイティー・アース(Mighty Earth)
[email protected]


Sumitomo Faces Shareholder Revolt Over Empty Climate Action Rhetoric

Mighty Earth Report Underscores Investor Concerns at Fossil Fuel Dependence


At Sumitomo Corporation's 2021 annual general meeting, 20% of shareholders, representing an estimated $2.53 billion in shares, voted in defiance of management and supported the resolution on climate change.
While it was positive to see Sumitomo respond to pressure and announce a shift away from the coal and natural resource side of the business and towards renewable energy, much more needs to be done to be consistent with the Paris Agreement.
Investors need to push Sumitomo to rule out involvement in the Matarbari 2 coal plant in Bangladesh, exit from all coal generation globally by 2040 (not the late 2040s), and end its involvement in wood biomass and adopt a no deforestation ("NDPE") policy. See our report for our full recommendations for Sumitomo regarding climate change.

Read the report

(Washington D.C) –Japanese conglomerate Sumitomo Corporation will face unprecedented investor pressure at its Annual General Meeting on June 18 for its failure to take adequate steps to reduce its massive global carbon emissions footprint, the Washington, D.C. environmental campaign organization Mighty Earth said today.  That pressure comes in the form of the first-ever climate resolution targeting a Japanese trading company by shareholders demanding that the firm align its strategies with the objectives of the with the 2015 Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and pursue a limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

The resolution reflects growing investor impatience with companies failing to implement substantive climate action policies. The resolution comes on the heels of last year’s resolution at Mizuho Financial Group and comes just ahead of a similar resolution at Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group later this month.

A Mighty Earth report released today underscores the urgency of that shareholder resolution by detailing Sumitomo’s deep involvement in the dirtiest and most environmentally destructive forms of energy production across its global operations. The report, “Smokescreen: Sumitomo’s ‘Carbon Neutral’ Failures,” reveals how Sumitomo is one of chief industrial facilitators of Japan’s addiction to coal through business lines ranging from ownership of massive coal mines to owning and constructing highly polluting new coal-burning power plants in Southeast Asia, to importing wood to be burned in coal plants.

“Sumitomo is a company at the center of global coal and biomass networks that mine, chop, finance, ship and burn the most destructive fuels on earth,” said Roger Smith, Mighty Earth’s Japan Project Manager.” “We’re starting to see shareholders question Sumitomo Corporation’s environmentally-friendly platitudes about achieving ‘carbon neutrality,’ in three decades’ time while simultaneously laying plans to continue highly-polluting fossil fuel operations for another twenty plus years. Sumitomo needs to adopt a stringent climate plan that quickly moves the company away from fossil fuels and towards clean, renewable energy.”

In May 2021, Sumitomo updated its climate plan to meet its professed goal of “contributing to addressing the many issues related to climate change mitigation and the realization of a carbon-neutral society.” But the new report lays out how the actual climate policy is still far from Paris-aligned and allows the firm to burn forests for fuel, start construction of two new coal power plant units in Bangladesh, increase the share of natural gas in its portfolio, operate thermal coal mines until 2030, and run coal power plants until the late 2040s. Sumitomo continues to rely heavily on imported forest biomass despite its high near-term carbon emissions, and lacks a no deforestation policy with safeguards against degrading sensitive forest ecosystems, including those in North America.

While little known outside Japan, the company has begun to dramatically increase imports of wood pellets from the U.S. and Canada as “biomass fuel” where wood is burned in power plants to produce electricity. A Sumitomo pellet-producing company recently faced criticism for its plans to log old-growth forests in British Columbia, and Sumitomo’s chief supplier in the Southeastern United States uses whole trees from already distressed ecosystems.

With wood pellet production in both the U.S. and Canada rapidly increasing, and Japan serving as the world’s fastest-growing market for pellets, scientists have sounded the alarm. This February, 500 academics wrote an open letter to President Biden, Prime Minister Suga and other world leaders to warn them against shifting from burning fossil fuels to burning trees stating, “Trees are more valuable alive than dead both for climate and for biodiversity. To meet future net zero emission goals, your governments should work to preserve and restore forests and not to burn them.”

That message is echoed by Meg Fukuzawa of the environmental finance organization Market Forces. “We are at a critical point where near-term targets are critical to reaching the goals of Paris, and Sumitomo’s are clearly insufficient,” Fukuzawa said. “Sumitomo’s plans are not only catastrophic to the climate, but investors should be worried about the possibility of finding themselves exposed to stranded assets if Sumitomo does not phase out of fossil fuels on Paris-aligned timeframes.”

Not only do these projects have an appallingly-high environmental price, Sumitomo is also paying a financial cost for its refusal to shift its operations to more environmentally friendly production modes. In FY 2020, Sumitomo Corporation lost ~$236 million (USD) on coal power in Australia, ~$73 million (USD) from sales of Marcellus and Eagle Ford oil and natural gas projects in the US, and ~$491 million (USD) related to costs and delays constructing power plants, including Matarbari 1 in Bangladesh. These losses constituted more than half of Sumitomo’s overall losses of ~$1.4 billion (USD) (153 billion yen).

“Sumitomo has a clear choice,” Smith said. “It can respond to shareholder concerns and reduce its global carbon emissions footprint in line with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement and reposition itself as a renewable energy market leader, or cling to its heavily-polluting 20th century industrial blueprint and continue to rack up financial losses and deepening shareholder antipathy with every year of continued delay.”


For inquiries, email [email protected]

President Biden

Biden Climate Summit Requires Bold Industrial Decarbonization Plan

By Phelim Kine and Megan Larkin

U.S. President Joseph R. Biden’s virtual Earth Day Summit will commence on April 22 on a hopeful note. The European Union on April 21 struck a tentative climate accord designed to ensure that the 27-nation grouping reaches carbon neutrality by 2050. And Biden’s climate czar, John Kerry, and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zenhua, pledged on April 18 to take joint "concrete actions in the 2020s to reduce emissions aimed at keeping the Paris Agreement-aligned temperature limit within reach."

That’s the good news.

The challenge: Reaching consensus on key government priorities essential to reduce carbon emissions that are fueling the already evident negative impacts of climate change. There’s a ready short list – stopping tropical deforestation and accelerating a global transition to renewable energy. But the summit’s true success hinges on states’ concrete commitments to decarbonization of the heavy industry sector which constitutes around 18 percent of all global carbon emissions. The World Steel Institute estimates the steel sector is responsible for approximately eight percent of total global carbon emissions. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that dramatic cuts in those emissions are essential to limit global warming to 1.5°C by 2050. The IPCC warns that failure to meet that target will greatly increase “climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth.”

A growing number of the world’s largest steel companies have proactively announced that they’ll reduce their carbon emissions over the next three decades. ArcelorMittal committed on March 17 to the development and rollout of two low-carbon steel product lines including a “certified green steel” line and a low-carbon recycled steel line, respectively. Japan’s Nippon Steel has set a target of reducing its carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030, prompting similar pledges from rivals including South Korean steelmaker POSCO and China’s state-owned Baowu Steel. And some of the world’s largest automakers are demanding that their steel suppliers provide them “green steel” car parts for their rapidly expanding lines of carbon neutral electrical vehicles.

Those corporate commitments are laudable. But decarbonizing the world’s heavy industry sector, starting with steel, is a nonstarter unless governments back up the private sector’s best intentions toward decarbonization with funding and supportive policy and regulatory initiatives. Pilot carbon reduction projects by ArcelorMittal, Tata Steel and Swedish steelmaker SSAB have hinged on millions of Euros in government support. That funding is a fraction of what is required to transition the entire global steel sector to carbon neutral status by 2050. POSCO has underscored the financial challenge of that transition when it revealed that replacement of its nine existing high carbon emission blast furnaces with carbon-neutral facilities will cost the “equivalent to its 30-year operating profit.”

Mighty Earth and The Climate Group have collaborated to create a new international multistakeholder policy tool that provides a common playbook outlining the respective responsibilities of governments and the private sector dedicated to accelerate and scale-up the decarbonization of heavy industry, starting with steel,  to align with a 1.5°C global warming trajectory. The Global Framework Principles for Decarbonizing Heavy Industry (“Framework Principles”) launched in February after a drafting process that involved close coordination with industry and policy experts across the globe. These principles constitute the first-ever publicly available global guidance for how to equitably balance economic growth with decarbonization.

The Framework Principles outline the respective roles of governments and private industry to ensure the successful decarbonization of heavy industries – including steel, cement and chemicals – through allocation of public financing for emissions reduction plans. The Framework Principles specify investment in low- and zero-carbon technologies as a top government and corporate priority to help phase out fossil fuel use in industrial processes. The United Kingdom has offered a potential model for meeting this challenge through government-corporate decarbonization partnerships by earmarking an initial US$1.4 billion over 15 years to fund such initiatives. The Framework Principles are grounded in a recognition that decarbonization efforts include biodiversity and human health protections and a commitment to a just transition to a decarbonized industrial future. The growing number of corporate endorsers include Tata Steel Ltd. and JSW cement of India, China’s Jinko Solar and the U.S.-based carbon recycling firm, LanzaTech.

Governments can also play an important role by helping to foster the development of an accepted, universal standard for low-carbon or carbon-zero “green steel.”  Such standards are needed to ensure that corporate carbon neutrality commitments bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality. The ResponsibleSteel coalition, which groups a diverse array of high carbon emission corporations with nongovernmental organizations including Mighty Earth, has developed standards that extend beyond greenhouse gas emission metrics to include “a wide range of social, safety and environmental issues.”

Biden’s challenge as host of the two-day summit is to align the climate pledges of state leaders of countries home to heavily polluting heavy industry sectors, including China, Japan and India, with concrete policy initiatives that will allocate state funding to accelerate industrial decarbonization.  Biden himself has pledged to put “sectoral decarbonization” at the center of his administration’s “green recovery efforts,” but failed to make it a priority of his massive infrastructure spending plans.

Biden’s not alone in that gap between rhetoric and reality. Chinese President Xi Jinping committed in September 2020 to reduce China’s carbon emissions in order to reach carbon neutral status by 2060. But despite China’s status as the world’s largest steel producer, Xi has yet to allocate the trillions of dollars at his disposal via state-owned commercial banks to put wheels on that pledge. Likewise, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has publicly committed to transition Japan to a decarbonized, zero-emission industrial production model by 2050. But Suga’s failure to date to provide a substantive road map to that target has prompted skepticism in Japan’s business community.  A survey of more than 11,000 large and small Japanese firms about Suga’s carbon neutrality target revealed that only 15.8% of surveyed companies considered it “achievable.”

Most concerning is the disconnect about the essential role of state financing for industrial decarbonization in the Indian government of Prime Minister Nahrendra Modi. RK Singh, India’s Minister of Power, last month derided other countries’ carbon net zero goals as “pie in the sky.” Singh then declared that the onus for decarbonization sat squarely on developed countries by “removing more carbon to the atmosphere than they are adding.” India’s status as the world’s third-largest carbon emitter behind China and the United States makes Singh’s dismissal of his country’s industrial decarbonization obligations particularly incongruous.

There is a growing global consensus that heavy industry decarbonization is essential to avert emission-fueled climate disaster. Biden’s climate summit will demonstrate whether that consensus can produce the necessary vision and political will to make heavy industry decarbonization a reality. 

Phelim Kine is the senior director Asia at the Washington, D.C.-based environmental campaign organization Mighty Earth; Megan Larkin is an Associate at Mighty Earth where she works on its heavy industry decarbonization campaign and business development


Automakers Must Drive Global Push for "Green Steel"

By Megan Larkin 

Sweden’s Volvo Cars has seen the future of the automobile: it’s built with carbon neutral “green steel.”

That’s the message that Volvo sent last week when it announced a collaboration with Swedish steel producer SSAB to produce “the world’s first vehicles to be made of fossil-free steel.”  Volvo and SSAB are pioneering a carbon neutral steel production process that this year will produce the first “green steel” concept cars ahead of serial production “within a few years.”

Volvo isn’t alone in that vision of a near-future carbon neutral automobile steel supply chain. Scania, a Swedish truck manufacturer, is investing in H2 Steel, a hydrogen start-up, to jumpstart access to green steel in response to consumer demand. And Boston Metal, an electrolysis-based steel technology start-up has already received seed funding from BMW in a similar venture. BMW has described that investment as part of the German automaker’s aim to disrupt an “extremely pollutive industry.”

These initiatives are essential in order for automakers to meet the growing consumer demands for environmentally friendly automobiles that are driving the rapid expansion of electric vehicle development and production. But automakers increasingly recognize that reducing the carbon footprint of their products must go beyond electrification and address the use of steel in their products.

The average vehicle requires an average of around 2,000 pounds of steel, making the automobile sector a significant consumer of a material that contributes an estimated 8 percent of total annual global carbon emissions. Given its role in global carbon emissions, decarbonizing the steel industry will be integral to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that failure to meet this target will greatly increase “climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth.”

Some of the world’s largest steel makers have already publicly announced that they will transition their production processes to carbon neutral status by 2050. Those companies include ArcelorMittal, Japan’s Nippon Steel, China’s Baowu Steel and POSCO in South Korea.  Those firms deserve credit for setting out such ambitious goals. But what they lack are clear timetable and science-based targets to allow those companies to achieve those objectives. And one of the biggest challenges for steel companies in unveiling the details of those carbon neutrality goals is cost.  Some estimates place the total cost for heavy industrial decarbonization at $11 trillion-$21 trillion through 2050. What steelmakers need, and soon, are assurances from their buyers there is a lucrative, growing market for low carbon or carbon free products that will justify the costly transition to zero emission production systems.

This is where automakers come in. Any demand that automakers make for green steel will communicate to steelmakers the longer-term financial incentives for investing in carbon neutral steel production technologies. Automakers’ massive purchasing power provided by the huge volumes of steel they buy gives them significant influence in the type of steel their suppliers produce. That means that automakers have untapped leverage that they can use to pressure steel makers to transition their current highly carbon intensive production methods to lower carbon or carbon neutral systems.

Automakers seeking to navigate their route to a carbon neutral supply chain now have the resources to coordinate with government: an international, multistakeholder policy tool dedicated to accelerating and scaling-up the decarbonization of heavy industry to align with a 1.5-degree Celsius trajectory. The Global Framework Principles for Decarbonizing Heavy Industry (“Framework Principles”), developed in partnership with The Climate Group, outline the role of government and private industry to ensure the successful decarbonization of heavy industries including steel, cement and chemicals through allocation of public financing for emissions reduction plans. The Framework Principles specify investment in low- and zero-carbon technologies as a top government and corporate priority to help phase out fossil fuel use in industrial processes.

Importantly, the Framework Principles go beyond the obvious targets – heavy industrial producers and manufacturers – and recognize the importance of end users, such as the automotive industry. Principle #3 calls for policies to create buyer demand for “low-carbon, circular, and resource efficient basic material products.” These policies would likely give muscle and leveraging power to end-user demands for green steel.

The automotive industry is waking up to growing consumer demand for environmentally friendly, carbon neutral products, particularly cars. What is needed is a sense of urgency to make the necessary changes to steel production processes in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. Martin Lindqvist, President and CEO at SSAB, says there is “a new green revolution emerging.” The appetite for green steel technology is there. With stronger partnerships between automakers and green steel technology in reach, he may just be right.

Megan Larkin is an Associate at the Washington, D.C.-based environmental campaign organization Mighty Earth where she works on its heavy industry decarbonization campaign and business development.


Beef Scorecard: Global Food Brands Failing to Address Largest Driver of Deforestation

WASHINGTON, DC – The world's top supermarket and fast-food companies are largely ignoring the environmental and human rights abuses caused by their beef products, a new scorecard by Mighty Earth finds. The scorecard evaluates the beef sourcing practices of fifteen of the world’s largest grocery and fast-food companies that have pledged to end deforestation across their supply chains. Despite beef’s role as the top driver of global deforestation, only four companies- Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour, and McDonald’s - have taken some action to stop sourcing beef from destructive suppliers.

Scores shown for each food company
Click to Enlarge

“A small handful of global beef suppliers are leading the destruction of our global forests and selling meat to food companies around the world,” said Lucia von Reusner, Senior Campaign Director for Mighty Earth. “Supermarkets and fast-food companies are the gatekeepers in the supply chain that can either enforce sustainability standards or continue to allow meat suppliers to sell beef from deforested land to unwitting customers.”

Public awareness and concern about the environmental impacts of meat production is on the rise. Cattle is the most significant driver of native ecosystem conversion, responsible for over 60% of global deforestation from high-risk commodities between 2001-2015. Mighty Earth’s scorecard reveals how supermarket and fast-food companies are performing against their promises to stop destroying forests. Companies are evaluated on three criteria: policy commitment, monitoring & verification, and public reporting on progress.

Key findings include:

  • Despite the outsized destruction generated by the cattle sector, only four companies – Tesco (65/100), Marks & Spencer (62/100), Carrefour (61/100), and McDonald’s (54/100) – have begun to implement their deforestation and conversion-free (DCF) commitments for beef products.
  • Tesco – at only 65 out of a possible 100 points – was the best performer, followed by Marks & Spencer (62/100) in second place. The two companies were the only ones to demonstrate effective use of the ‘suspend and engage’ approach with their beef suppliers, having cut contracts with non-compliant suppliers and prioritized sourcing from low-risk suppliers.
  • Rewe (9/100), Aldi Süd (14/100), Ahold Delhaize (19/100), and Auchan Retail (24/100) were the worst performing companies according to the scorecard.
  • Most efforts to stop native ecosystem destruction in the beef industry are concentrated in Brazil’s Amazon and do not address other ecosystems, despite increasing evidence that the problem has spread to the Pantanal, Cerrado, the Gran Chaco region of Paraguay and Argentina, the Chiquitania in Bolivia, and even parts of Australia.

The scorecard also provides comprehensive recommendations for steps food companies can take to improve their performance. These recommendations include:

  • No-deforestation policy commitments must apply to all products globally, have a clear date for achieving compliance, include protections for all ecosystems beyond just forests, and have a clear cut-off date after which new deforestation will be considered a violation of the policy.
  • Implementing internal systems for monitoring the performance and compliance of beef suppliers, which includes a ‘suspend and engage’ protocol for non-compliant suppliers.
  • Require beef suppliers to provide data needed to evaluate performance, including full traceability information back to the farm level.
  • Report regularly on progress, including volumes of conversion-free beef, percent of supply chain that is fully traceable back to the farm level, and disclose a list of all beef suppliers.


JBS Promises 14 More Years of Forest Destruction

On March 23, 2021, JBS announced a "commitment to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2040," including a pledge to "achieve zero deforestation across its global supply chain by 2035." Mighty Earth Vice President and Global Director for Latin America Sarah Lake released the following statement in response:

“In a much-publicized announcement, JBS has just promised at least 14 more years of forest destruction. As Brazil’s largest cattle company and one of the single worst companies driving deforestation, habitat destruction, and climate change, JBS’s climate and deforestation commitments should be commensurate with their outsized impact. By that standard, this latest pledge — to achieve zero deforestation by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2040 — is woefully inadequate. The climate is changing now. Forests are burning today. That JBS felt the need to make this announcement shows they are feeling the pressure to act; the paltry scope of the pledge demonstrates the need for us to keep that pressure on.”

ArcelorMittal Decarbonization Move Highlights Urgency of Steel Emission Reductions

Government funding essential to support corporate carbon reduction moves

The global steel production sector made an important symbolic move toward tackling its massive carbon emission problem with ArcelorMittal’s unveiling of a new decarbonization initiative, Mighty Earth said today. ArcelorMittal, one of the world’s largest steel producers, committed on March 17 to the development and rollout of two branded low-carbon steel product lines including a “certified green steel” line and a low-carbon recycled steel line, respectively. The World Steel Institute estimates that the steel sector is responsible for approximately eight percent of total global carbon dioxide emissions.

“ArcelorMittal’s low-carbon steel initiative marks a small step toward a wider steel-sector recognition of the urgency of transitioning production systems toward carbon neutral emission systems,” said Phelim Kine, senior director Asia at Mighty Earth. “ArcelorMittal has sent a clear signal that steel production’s current high carbon emission status quo is both environmentally and economically unsustainable, but more dramatic carbon reductions by the steel sector are necessary to align with a 1.5°C global warming trajectory.”

This initiative will render only modest reductions in ArcelorMittal’s carbon emissions. The company’s new low-carbon product lines will constitute only a maximum of two percent of ArcelorMittal’s total annual steel production by end-2022. ArcelorMittal plans to expand that production to a target of ten percent of its total steel products by 2025-2030. That’s a fraction of the industrial carbon emission reductions that the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated as essential to limit global warning to 1.5°C  by 2050. The IPCC warns that failure to meet that target will greatly increase “climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth.” Company officials explicitly linked the development of the product lines to government, societal and customer demands for low carbon emission steel.

ArcelorMittal also announced the creation of a new “Innovation Fund” aimed to seed the development of new technology and companies dedicated to reducing heavy industry carbon emissions.  The company’s Chief Executive Officer, Aditya Mittal, emphasized the fund’s annual US$100 million budget was only a fraction of what was needed to transform the steel sector to a low-carbon future and declared “We need partners” to accelerate such efforts. That admission is an implicit recognition of the need for deep investment by both governments and the private sector to effect the needed production chain overhauls across the heavy industry sector in order to align it with a 1.5°C global warming trajectory.

ArcelorMittal’s initiative dovetails with the objectives of a new international multistakeholder policy tool pioneered by Mighty Earth and The Climate Group dedicated to accelerate and scale-up the decarbonization of heavy industry to align with a 1.5°C global warming trajectory. That tool, the Global Framework Principles for Decarbonizing Heavy Industry (“Framework Principles”), launched last month after a drafting process that involved close coordination with industry and policy experts across the globe. Those principles constitute the first-ever publicly available global guidance for how to equitably balance economic growth with decarbonization.

The Framework Principles outline the role of governments and private industry to ensure the successful decarbonization of heavy industries including steel, cement and chemicals through allocation of public financing for emissions reduction plans. The Framework Principles also specify investment in low- and zero-carbon technologies as a top government and corporate priority to help phase out fossil fuel use in industrial processes. The growing number of heavy industry corporate endorsers including Tata Steel Ltd.  and JSW Cement reflect how corporations are seizing the initiative on industrial decarbonization.

“ArcelorMittal’s initiative should place urgent decarbonization at the top of the heavy industry sector’s priorities and catalyze private sector and government action to provide the necessary funding as well as the policy and regulatory environment necessary to fast-track that process,” Kine said. “Avoiding the climate repercussions of unmitigated industrial high carbon emissions requires serious, timely and collaborative corporate and policy sector measures to keep our planet from heating beyond 1.5C.”

The Biden Moment on Climate

Dear Friends,

We’re excited to extend our warmest congratulations to President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris, with a sense of relief and hope for the next four years.

Congressman Henry Waxman, chairman of Mighty Earth, has worked with President-elect Biden for decades on environmental protection, health care, and other issues. We know Joe Biden to be a good man. President-elect Biden has not only supported ambitious climate and environmental legislation, but offered an ambitious and achievable action plan. He’s also assembled an impressive team, including expert alumni of Congressman Waxman’s staff.

We’ve waited far too long to reach this moment when movement for climate action is within reach and on the Administration’s agenda. And we’re determined to keep it there.

100 Days, 100 Environmental Protections

The first order of business for the environment will be undoing President Trump’s rollback of core protections. Indeed, just in the last two weeks, President Trump gutted protections for Alaska’s Tongass rainforest (one of the most carbon-dense ecosystems on the planet) and let threatened wolves start being gunned down.

Among the other approximately 100 top priority environmental protections to restore:

  • The Obama-Biden climate standards for cars and trucks, probably the single most important climate policy of the Obama administration
  • Limits on methane super-pollution from oil and gas
  • Protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Bears Ears, Grand Staircase, Northeast Canyons National Monuments, and other public lands.

We look forward to working with the Biden administration to start to reverse these 100 rollbacks in the first 100 days.

A Perfect Storm for Decarbonization

At Mighty Earth, we believe the secret to our success has been creating “Perfect Storms” of grassroots activism, financial pressure, and media attention to transform industries and create irresistible political momentum. There’s rarely a silver bullet to achieve systemic change; we must pull every lever available. This approach has never been more relevant.

To be sure, there may be challenges enacting the Biden climate agenda from a divided Senate and right-wing Supreme Court. While they can’t be overlooked, a determined prioritization of climate in all policy-making forums, including those that are not traditionally environmental, can achieve Biden’s ambitious policy goals. Transportation policy, tax policy, infrastructure policy, and pandemic economic stimulus are all opportunities to drive decarbonization and create the green, living-wage jobs we need to spark an economic renaissance.

So far, the United States has spent trillions of dollars on stimulus, and while some of these efforts have provided much-needed aid to American families, we have flubbed the opportunity to use corporate bailout funds to invest in the green jobs of the future. The next round of stimulus can’t make the same mistake. All policy is climate policy now.

Pandemic Prevention

One of the top priorities for the Biden administration will be ending the coronavirus pandemic, but we must also focus on preventing the next pandemic. COVID-19, like SARS, MERS, Ebola, and AIDS before it, likely emerged from human-wildlife interaction fueled by deforestation. Indeed, destruction of native ecosystems is the single greatest risk factor for new pandemics. That’s why we support Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ro Khanna’s call to include scaled up forest protection as part of a comprehensive pandemic protection plan. President-elect Biden also called during the first debate to mobilize $20 billion for rainforest conservation; we look forward to working with the administration to deliver on that pledge.

Presidential Climate Leadership Beyond Federal Policy

In order to achieve his climate goals, President Biden has far more at his disposal than just pulling the bureaucratic and legal levers available to him: he can set goals, provide tools, and demand action from the private sector, states and cities, and citizens alike. There’s more than one way for the president to drive decarbonization.

For our part, we’re scaling up our advocacy campaigns to transform agriculture and industry to drive rapid decarbonization. And states and cities such as those participating in America’s Climate Pledge are working hard on practical measures like clean electricity standards and changing local building codes.

President Biden can supercharge this agenda with some simple steps:

  • Demand that irresponsible U.S. companies like Cargill and ExxonMobil quit tarnishing America’s global reputation through destroying forests, polluting the atmosphere, and driving human rights abuses
  • Force foreign-owned business like top polluter JBS to act with respect for America’s waterways and communities; and push every large company join a race to the top for climate action;
  • Share the resources of the federal government to drive comprehensive action.

America’s Role in the World

We are relieved that the United States will once again be a leading voice for environmental protection. Change has already begun: Biden has promised to immediately rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement.

We look forward to working with the Biden administration to return to an era of honesty, integrity, and international cooperation to protect forests, climate, wildlife, and oceans, and secure the rights of Indigenous communities and courageous front-line defenders.

The United States and the world face enormous challenges crushing down on us all at once. But we believe that Joe Biden’s election can – with resolve, courage, and a LOT of grassroots organizing – represent a key pivot, a time when we turned away from the path that led to climate catastrophe and began to truly build back better.
Thanks for your continued support of Mighty Earth.


Glenn Hurowitz            Kristin Urquiza
CEO, Mighty Earth       Deputy Director, Mighty Earth

IEA Fails to Deliver a 1.5-degree Climate Scenario for Steel Industry

Today, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released its long-delayed Iron and Steel Technology Roadmap. While the report includes some encouraging insights and analysis about how to decarbonize the iron and steel industry, which accounts for 8 percent of all final global energy use and 7 percent of all global CO2 emissions, the report fails to deliver on the growing calls for more ambitious models built around a 1.5-degree climate scenario.

Mighty Earth campaign director Margaret Hansbrough had the following response to the report and launch webinar: 

"The IEA has squandered its unique opportunity to set the stage for the decarbonization of steel, offering instead an unambitious plan that fails to ensure a livable Earth in 2050 and beyond. In its new report, the agency’s Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) aims for a 1.8-degree scenario that is more likely to be 2 degrees. It projects a reduction of only 2 gigatons between now and 2030 – essentially a business-as-usual scenario – even as it states there will need to be a reduction of 22 gigatons for their 2050 SDS.

"This lack of ambition is incredibly disappointing because the private sector is showing signs of progress. In recent weeks, LaFarge, world’s largest cement company, issued a new science-based target (SBT) commitment. Arup, major construction company, announced plans for net-zero emissions by 2030. And the world’s largest steel company, ArcelorMittal just pledged to achieve carbon neutrality company-wide by 2050. As the difficult work of decarbonizing heavy industry moves forward, the IEA needs to lay out a vision sufficient to the scope of the challenge.

"Overall, the report fails to deliver in the most critical ways. The IEA would do the world a great service by elevating its Faster Innovation Case -- a more aggressive scenario which it references in this report and articulates more fully in the September 2020 Energy Technology Perspectives report. We are calling upon the IEA, its member nations and associated nations, and policymakers and corporate leaders in those countries to put forth a 1.5-degree scenario for steel and all of heavy industry in the next few months. Our leaders must address the gap between their current scenarios and what is needed for a livable world and seize the opportunity to make industrial decarbonization an urgent part of a global green economic recovery."


A few encouraging points in the report include:

  • Early retirement of assets, technology sunsets, and strong international cooperation around research, development, and deployment of breakthrough and clean technologies to displace and mitigate coal use are all mentioned in the report. These are all top priority tools to reduce emissions.
  • The report calls for a global policy framework for countries and companies to come to a consensus through formal diplomatic climate and trade policy mechanisms
  • The report acknowledges that in the time between now and when some of the biggest pollution reduction strategies will pay off at great scale, the steel industry should invest in Nature Based Solutions such as forest conservation and restoration to complement industry decarbonization and achieve carbon neutrality now. This recommendation aligns with Mighty Earth’s call to action for the global steel industry to commit to achieving carbon neutrality now and net zero by 2050.

The most discouraging points in the report include:

  • Despite IEA’s enthusiasm of late for clean hydrogen technology, it forecasts that by 2050 only 8 percent of steel will be produced using clean hydrogen.
  • Almost nothing is mentioned about the current need to address overcapacity, mostly driven by China’s aggressive, high-carbon plans for a post-COVID recovery. This silence is in strong contrast to the OECD Steel Committee, which raised overcapacity as a major concern last week.
  • Overall, the report shows deeply path dependent and siloed thinking from the IEA. They fail to recognize that the very countries and regions where they project dramatic increases in steel demand are the same places that will be most severely affected by the dangerous effects of climate change, including rising seas, catastrophic temperature rise, and drought.


Photo: Tata Steel Logistics & Shipping Bv, Rooswijkweg, IJmuiden, Nederland; by Floris Andréa on Unsplash

Indigenous-Led Movement Tells Brazilian Government: #HandsOffTheAmazon

Mighty Earth joins the Indigenous led #HandsOffTheAmazon movement, including more than 30 civil society organizations, in signing onto a letter calling for renewed effort to protect the Amazon. Given the lackluster efforts taken by the Brazilian government in recent years, urgent action is needed to stop deforestation in the Amazon, protecting the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples and the keeping the Amazon from ecosystem collapse due to decades of destruction.

#HandsOffTheAmazon is a global campaign coordinated by APIB (an organization representing the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil) and its international partners to mobilize civil society, multinational companies, and the financial sector in pressuring the Brazilian government to stop making empty promises and implement a long-term plan that restores environmental protections and upholds the rights of Indigenous Peoples. The letter, which will be the culmination of the campaign, will be delivered online and in-person to the federal government of Brazil and select Brazilian Embassies on Wednesday, October 7.

In the letter, the signatories make it clear that it is too late for another empty promise and demand comprehensive solutions, including the following actions:

  • Establish and implement a concrete, long-term plan to fight deforestation and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Prohibit and immediately halt all economic activity occurring in areas deforested after 2018.
  • Restore and uphold territorial rights of Indigenous Peoples, as outlined in the Brazilian constitution.
  • Prohibit and immediately halt all economic activity occurring in areas belonging to Indigenous and traditional communities, unless their full consent has been granted.
  • Reinvigorate capacity of Brazil’s environmental agencies
  • Enhance traceability by creating legal conditions for soft commodities (beef, soy, etc.) and other goods (timber, minerals, etc.) through due diligence requirements.


Opposition Mounting to Anti-Forest Legislation in Indonesia

New York Times report, public announcements by major companies highlight risk to Indonesia’s economy

As Rick Paddock and Muktita Suhartono of the New York Times document, there is growing concern in Indonesia and around the world about legislation that would roll back bedrock forest and environmental protections. This story and a recent announcement from Jardine Matheson, a company with a major presence in Indonesia, underscore the potential economic fallout of the proposed “Omnibus Bill,” which is set to pass the Indonesian parliament by the end of next week.

The Times reports:

“The government is pursuing this policy as if they were completely deaf and blind to the effect on people by the emerging climate crisis,” said Phelim Kine, senior director for Asia at Mighty Earth, a global environmental campaign organization. “This is the Indonesian equivalent of ‘Drill, baby, drill.’”

Indonesia, which straddles the Equator and once had vast rainforests, has lost much of its forest cover to intentional burning that has been used for decades to clear land for palm oil plantations.


The lack of safeguards and the reduction in environmental protections could make foreign investors — especially those from Europe, where environmental standards are high — less interested in putting money in Indonesia.

Reinforcing this point is a recent announcement from multinational conglomerate Jardine Matheson, which has come under fire for its environmental practices in Indonesia and is the owner of Indonesia’s largest company, Astra International. On September 30, Jardine Matheson released a public letter in support of “proposed UK legislation aimed at ensuring that companies only use responsibly sourced ‘forest risk’ commodities, and the EU initiative to reduce the impact on deforestation and forest degradation of products sold in the EU.”

Like most palm oil and paper companies in Indonesia, Astra Internatonal’s Astra Agro Lestari palm plantation operations are growing without deforestation. In fact, palm oil deforestation has declined from 400,000 hectares per year to fewer than 100,000 in each of the last three years; overall deforestation in Indonesia is at its lowest level since 2003.

But the elements of the Omnibus Bill that risk accelerating deforestation pose a serious risk to Indonesia’s attractiveness to international investors that are increasingly enshrining environmental sustainability standards into their investment decisions. This risk could negate the government’s hopes that the Omnibus Bill is an essential tool for boosting international investment in the country.

That assessment was implicitly echoed in July by the World Bank’s Indonesia and Timor Leste country director, Satu Kahkonen, who criticized the bill by warning that in its present form it “is basically not helping Indonesia” because it will “move Indonesia’s environmental legislation further away from the implementation of best practices.”

Indonesian palm oil producers, whose exports constitute more than two percent of Indonesia’s annual gross domestic product, should recognize that the bill’s pro-deforestation elements are counter-productive and speak out against the rush to pass a bill that could harm their long-term economic interest.

Taken together, these statements and concerns clearly demonstrate the environmental and economic perils of the Indonesian parliament passing the Omnibus Bill without significant changes.

The government of Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Indonesian lawmakers should heed these warnings and suspend the passage of the Omnibus Bill in order to allow for public consultation on its environmental implications.


Justice for Tamshiyacu

After it deforested about 2,000 hectares of primary forest to install a cocoa plantation in Tamshiyacu in the Loreto region of Peru, the company Cacao del Peru Norte (today Tamshi SAC) was charged with engaging in illegal trafficking of forest and wood products and obstruction of justice. Today, Mighty Earth supports those calling on the relevant Peruvian authorities to ratify the sentence against the company.

In July 2019, the Judicial Power ruled in favor of the State and ordered Cacao del Peru Norte to pay a civil reparation of more than 15 million soles ($4 million USD). Its manager, now a fugitive, was sentenced to eight years in prison.

The company appealed, and on Friday October 2, the second instance hearing will be held in the Superior Court of Loreto. It is of vital importance that the Judiciary knows citizens and civil society organizations are aware of this case and demanding that those responsible for these environmental crimes be definitively condemned.

The ratification of the sentence is fundamental to the fight against deforestation in Peru since, for the first time, a crime of this type has received criminal sanctions against those responsible. It is also of special importance in the fight against impunity. Finally, the protection of the Amazon is essential to addressing the global climate and extinction crises. Peru must set an example and guarantee environmental and climate justice.

sustainable food

Millions of Europeans call for full alignment of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy with the European Green Deal

Today, Mighty Earth joins 30 EU civil society organizations and 250 organizations working in coalition in seven Member States who have written to the leaders of EU Institutions calling out the mismatch between ongoing negotiations on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the objectives of the European Green Deal.

The signatories of the joint open letter, representing millions of citizens from food, farming, development, climate, environmental, and public health movements raise the alarm at the failure of the negotiations of the CAP reform to deliver the urgent changes needed in the EU’s food system. They urge top EU leaders to translate their commitment to the Green Deal into action by ensuring the reformed CAP is fit to deliver on the objectives of the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies.

Specifically, the signatories ask the leaders of the EU institutions to amend the 2018 CAP reform proposal to align with the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies according to three overarching priorities.

  1. Give the CAP a clear direction and robust governance
  2. Ensure the CAP does not support or incentivize any harmful practices or practices that are incompatible with the Green Deal
  3. Empower farmers and rural actors to be drivers of positive change

The full letter, addressed to leaders of EU institutions, urging to amend the 2018 CAP reform proposal to align with the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies is available here.

Smoke in Porto Vehlo

2020 Amazon Fires Linked to Deforestation by JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva; Likely Exacerbated COVID-19 Outbreaks

New analysis demonstrates supply chain overlap and shows fires were highly concentrated in areas with high rates of COVID-19 infection

WASHINGTON, DC – A new analysis by environmental campaign organization Mighty Earth, working in collaboration with MapHubs, links meat companies JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva to the fires raging in the Amazon and highlights how these fires are likely exacerbating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on local communities. 

The report, Fanning the Flames: The Corporations Destroying the Amazon and Worsening the COVID-19 Pandemic, maps the fires intentionally set in Brazil this year and overlays local company supply chain information to understand which companies are driving the destructionUnlike the wildfires in the U.S., fires in the Amazon are intentionally set to clear land for use as cattle pasture or for crop production. Mighty Earth finds that just three companies – JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva – are responsible for 72 percent of beef exported in the areas with the highest concentration of fires. 

The findings echo Mighty Earth’s 2019 report, The Companies Behind the Burning of the Amazon. “It’s not a mystery. The same companies named in last year’s report – especially JBS and Marfrig – are again linked to the fires raging in 2020,” said Mighty Earth Campaign Director Lucia von Reusner. After the worldwide outrage last summer about the destruction of the Amazon, it’s unthinkable that these companies have continued to go about business as usual without repercussions.

The first half of September saw more than double the number of fires in the Amazon compared to the same time last year, according to data from Brazil’s national space research agency INPE. The report shows this year’s fires highly concentrated in three distinct “hotspots,” all areas of agricultural expansion, primarily for cattle production. Following last year’s fires, scientists warned that the Amazon was nearing a ‘tipping point’ of ecological collapse. 

Mighty Earth’s analysis also highlights how these fires are likely exacerbating the impacts of COVID-19. The three hotspot municipalities reported a combined 47,988 cases as of August 16, 2020, and an infection rate more than twice the national average by total population. Local communities have blamed the agricultural industry for worsening the impacts of the pandemic, both through crowding workers into unsanitary processing plants and burning land in ways that cause respiratory ailments. Even in a normal year, smoke from forest fires can cause or exacerbate respiratory problems, and Brazil saw a significant rise in hospitalizations and loss of life during the peak fire season in 2019. This year’s fires are likely to compound existing health risks for communities already suffering from the pandemic. 

In response to the findings, Mighty Earth called on global supermarkets and consumer goods stores to stop buying from suppliers that are destroying the rainforest. Many of the world’s largest food companies have adopted no-deforestation sourcing standards in response to public backlash, but are largely failing to deliver on these promises.

People are demanding sustainable options, and simply do not want their local grocery store stocking its shelves with products that drove rainforest destruction,” said von ReusnerLast year’s global outcry didn’t stop the same bad actors from burning again this year. Even a global respiratory pandemic hasn’t stopped them from starting fires that choke the skies with haze. The only way these companies will change their practices is if the grocery stores that people trust – Metro, Costco, Casino, and Ahold Delhaize stores like Giant, Food Lion, and Stop & Shop – stop buying from the arsonists of the Amazon.” 

While many major global brands have adopted no-deforestation sourcing policies for soy, they have not applied these same standards to beef despite beef’s significantly larger deforestation footprint. JBS, the biggest meat producer in the world, has publicly committed to eradicate deforestation in its direct supply chain yet is continually linked to deforestation throughout its indirect supply chain.  

Until we have full transparency and traceability in supply chains and clear cutoff dates are established for deforestation, the unnecessary destruction of the already-vulnerable Amazon will continue,” said von Reusner. 

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Leaders Pledge for Nature

Mighty Earth Helps Lobby Globally for a Successful Leaders' Pledge for Nature

Working with colleagues in the 250 organization-strong Planetary Emergency Partnership, Mighty Earth worked globally to help ensure 70 Heads of State and Government signed on to a breakthrough Leaders' Pledge for Nature unveiled September 28 at the United Nations in New York – committing to accelerate decisive action on nature in response to the planetary nature, climate, health, and biodiversity emergencies.

World leaders including France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Angela Merkel, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Costa Rica’s Carlos Quesada, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, and EU President Ursula von der Leyen were among 70 leaders who pledged to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and undertake an ambitious 10-point set of urgent actions over the next 10 years as part of the UN Decade of Action to achieve Sustainable Development. The Leaders’ Pledge highlights how the interdependent crises of biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation, and climate change are causing irreversible harm to our life support systems, aggravating poverty and inequality, and increasing the risk of future zoonotic pandemics.

Coming days ahead of a major UN Summit on Biodiversity, the Leaders' Pledge for Nature commitments include a renewed effort to reduce deforestation, halt unsustainable fishing practices, clamp down on waste plastics, eliminate environmentally harmful subsidies, and accelerate the transition towards sustainable food production systems and circular economies.

“We’re so grateful to the visionary leadership of the Planetary Emergency group at this time of crisis, which has stepped up and leveraged people power to help set the stage for a stronger, successful COP -- even as some world leaders are turning their backs on the Paris agreement," said Etelle Higonnet, Senior Campaign Director at Mighty Earth. "We were excited to do our part, and approached our high-level contacts in dozens of countries to help ensure as many world leaders as possible signed this Leaders' Pledge for Nature to help protect and enhance nature and biodiversity. We hope this is a turning point, and that this moment will spark widespread recognition of the immense role that nature and biodiversity will need to play in tackling the global planetary emergency."

The Presidents of the U.S., Brazil, and China have all yet to sign the Leaders' Pledge, despite China’s President Xi hosting the post-2020 UN global biodiversity framework summit in Kunming in China next year.

Project to Build Japan's Largest Palm Oil Burning Power Plant Defeated

Environmental groups call on government to reform renewable energy incentives and for H.I.S. to abandon plans to build a similar plant

KYOTO, JAPAN – Environmental groups are celebrating today’s dissolution of Maizuru Green Initiatives GK, a company set up to build a palm oil burning power plant in Maizuru City, Japan. The controversial large-scale 66-megawatt biomass power plant was the subject of a 9 months-long campaign by local residents with support from Japanese and international environmental groups.

“This is a great victory for tropical forests and the residents of Maizuru. We are now calling on travel company H.I.S. in Miyagi and Sankei Energy in Kyoto to end their involvement with palm oil power plants, and for the Japanese government to stop subsidizing biomass power that worsens climate change,” said Yuichiro Ishizaki of HUTAN Group.

The Maizuru power plant sparked controversy for its use of palm oil as its primary fuel source. Malaysia and Indonesia are the primary producers of palm oil for Japan. Native tropical forests, including habitat for endangered orangutans, are being lost, with 3.5 million hectares of tropical rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia converted into oil palm plantations over the last 20 years. Japan imports approximately 750,000 tons of palm oil per year, mainly for use in foods and products. If the Maizuru palm oil power plant were constructed, it would significantly add to this burden, burning an additional 120,000 tons per year.

Pressure from residents, including a petition with 11,000 signatures, prompted the project sponsor, AMP Energy of Toronto, Canada to withdraw from the project in April 2020. In a letter sent on Earth Day (April 22), Executive Chairman Paul Ezekiel stated: “Going forward, our company and our group will not consider power generation business that uses palm oil as its fuel.” Ezekiel was also quoted citing project difficulties which included “strong opposition from local residents.”

AMP’s withdrawal left a question as to whether the plant constructor and operator, Hitachi Zosen, would look for a new sponsor. At its annual shareholder meeting on June 23, 2020, Takashi Morimoto from the Maizuru residents group raised concerns and questioned Hitachi Zosen Managing Director Toshiyuki Shiraki about their plans for this plant. Shiraki responded that Hitachi Zosen would withdraw from this project. When asked for an explanation by a reporter, Shiraki stated: “It is because we have no prospect of investing in palm oil in the future.” Maizuru City followed suit, with the mayor announcing on June 26 that the city would no longer pursue the power plant project.

“It was all hands on deck for what we expected to be a years-long fight against this plant. It is amazing that we were able to see its cancelation in just nine months. I believe we were able to achieve victory due to a combination of local grassroots activities and advice from experienced NGOs. The world is full of problems, but I believe people in other regions can also change society for the better,” offered Takashi Morimoto of the Environmental Group of Maizuru West District.

Maizuru Plant Part of Larger Trend

In Japan, government incentives have spurred the use of palm oil for power generation. In 2012, Japan began incentives to support renewable energy (through the “feed-in-tariff” or FiT) where the government guarantees utilities will purchase electricity generated from renewable energy at a fixed price. Until recently, the feed-in-tariff system had the highest incentive in the world for biomass power (primarily wood pellets, palm kernel shells and palm oil) of 24 yen/KWh.

The more palm oil is burned for biomass power generation, the more global demand for palm oil will increase. As of March 2018, the total capacity of the palm oil power plant projects approved under the Japan’s FiT system was 1700 MW. If all were to be built, 3.4 million tons of palm oil would be burned each year -- nearly five times more than Japan’s current palm oil imports. This surge in demand threatens to have a huge environmental impact.

Japanese environmental advocates are battling a second large palm oil power plant under construction in Kakuda City, Miyagi Prefecture, and to date have collected 200,000 signatures against it. This plant is being built by H.I.S. Super Power, an affiliate of Japanese travel giant H.I.S.

“As a travel company, H.I.S. runs ecotours to places like Borneo, promoting a chance to experience the wonder of the natural world. How can they explain to these customers why they are also involved in a business which will burn large amounts of forest-destroying palm oil to make electricity? We are calling upon H.I.S. to follow Hitachi Zosen’s lead and renounce their involvement in palm oil power plants,” stated Kanna Mitsuta of Friends of the Earth, Japan.

Subsidizing Climate Change Biomass Worsens Climate Change

Unfortunately, Japanese government policy failed to put safeguards in place to avoid fuel sources linked to deforestation and with significant greenhouse gas emissions. A 2019 analysis done for Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) showed that palm oil had similar emissions to natural gas over its lifecycle (including cultivation, processing, transportation). However, when tropical forests are cleared, emissions increase five times; when peatlands are developed, emissions increase a staggering 139 times.

In addition to burning palm oil, Japan’s biomass policies also incentivize cutting down forests and burning wood, a practice that hinders our progress against climate change, as new trees regrow and reabsorb carbon slowly. Most wood burned in Japan is shipped from Vietnam or North America.

Maizuru Plant Attracted International Opposition

The Maizuru palm oil power plant attracted international attention, with environmental groups alarmed at Japan’s surge of biomass power plants. In a joint letter to 44 domestic and international financial institutions, 25 groups from 8 countries opposed this project, and palm oil power in general.

“The clock is ticking in our fight against global climate change – with only a few years to act, we cannot afford to waste time on false climate solutions,” said Mighty Earth Senior Campaign Director Deborah Lapidus. “Burning palm oil accelerates the destruction of the forests we need to absorb carbon. Burning wood biomass literally sends years’ worth of carbon sequestration up in smoke. Halting the Maizuru plant is an important step in ending the false promise of biomass and will help put the focus on truly renewable power solutions.”

Urgent Need to Reform Japan’s Renewable Energy Incentive Program

In April 2020, after calls for reform, METI required greenhouse gas assessment for new biomass fuel types under the feed-in-tariff. Advocates are urging METI to also place strict greenhouse gas emissions limits on existing fuels including palm oil, wood pellets and palm kernel shells.

“Japan’s renewable energy incentives should not subsidize fuels that worsen climate change,” stated Sayoko Iinuma of Global Environmental Forum. “Due to its high greenhouse gas emissions, palm oil should be excluded from the feed-in-tariff, and METI needs to adopt strict emissions limits for wood biomass as well.”

Campaign website (Japanese/limited English):

Ensuring a Green EU Recovery Plan for the Tire, Rubber, and Auto Industries

This week, Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz sent a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the need to ensure environmental and human rights conditions for all EU bailouts and recovery support. The letter is reprinted below and available here.

Dear President von der Leyen,

Thank you for your environmental leadership and commitment to advancing the European Green Deal as the basis of the EU’s recovery strategy, and we applaud the proposed €40bn Just Transition Fund to assist member states to transition towards climate neutrality and a more circular economy.

Mighty Earth is a global environmental organization with a significant and growing interest in ending land-grabbing, human rights abuses, and environmental destruction linked to commodities imported into the EU. We focus heavily on areas of outsized importance to the climate that receive insufficient attention from policymakers and the private sector. We have driven adoption of zero-deforestation sourcing policies across the palm oil, cocoa and rubber industries, and helped launch a CSO-industry partnership, Responsible Steel, under which several of the world’s largest steel companies have committed to science-based targets.

In that context, I am writing to urge you to ensure all post Covid-19 EU bailout and recovery support for EU-based tire and rubber, auto, car rental, ride-share and aviation companies is aligned with the European Green Deal, supports environmental and human rights standards, and helps build a green, just and healthy economy.

The rubber industry

The tire and automotive industries are the largest market for natural rubber. Between 2003 and 2014, the rubber industry tore down 75,000 square kilometers of tropical forest, an area the size of Ireland. This deforestation was responsible for an estimated 3.75 gigatons of pollution during that time, comparable to the amount produced by Europe in a year. Land-grabbing is widespread in the sector, and we are finding companies are using the Covid-19 lockdown as a cover to seize and clear land while nobody appears to be watching. For example, in March, Vietnam-based HAGL destroyed forests on two sacred mountains earmarked for return to local Indigenous peoples in Ratanakiri in Cambodia. HAGL’s largest investor is THACO, which assembles cars in Vietnam for auto companies including Peugeot, Mazda and Kia. While low rubber prices in the last few years have reduced incentives for deforestation and land-grabbing, increased commodity prices in the absence of strong conservation policies would create new incentives for aggressive deforestation.

Planning a post-pandemic recovery to ensure a greener future

High volumes of EU and EU-backed bailout support distributed over the coming months will shape the EU tire and rubber, auto, car rental, ride-share and aviation industries for years to come. Many EU-based companies in these sectors will benefit from this support. EU airlines are seeking €33bn in emergency bailout support, while tire companies like Continental, Michelin and Pirelli are seeking state aid, bailout or recovery assistance. Insisting on green conditions is possible: Air France-KLM was required to halve emissions, cut short-haul flights, and use more sustainable aviation fuel by 2024 to qualify for bailouts from the French and Dutch governments. However, few other bailouts to the transport sector have set conditions on carbon emissions or deforestation, let alone curbing the human rights abuses so rampant in the rubber industry.

Action Points

We urge you to ensure that all EU-based companies that rely on rubber in their key products or connected to transport are aligned with the European Green Deal and legally bound by environmental and human rights conditions when accessing EU or EU-backed recovery support. In particular, we would ask you and your colleagues within the Commission to tie public EU and EU-backed recovery funds to the following conditions:

1) Environment

All companies receiving bailout funds should be committed to the European Green Deal, the Paris Agreement, and to achieving net zero carbon neutrality by 2025. They should all have measurable action plans to transition towards a net zero carbon future. Airlines should set out plans for carbon neutrality by 2025 and for rapidly shifting to sustainable aviation fuels and mitigating the full climate impacts of the industry, including rubber deforestation. Auto, car rental and ride-share companies should set a target date by which they only provide electric vehicles made from low carbon materials – including zero carbon steel – and vehicle-scrappage should be in line with circular economy principles. All tire, rubber and auto companies seeking EU or EU-backed bailouts should have clear ‘Zero Deforestation’ and ‘Fire-free’ sourcing policies for natural rubber and time-bound plans to implement and enforce them. To quality for aid, these companies should have credible plans in place to achieve transparency and traceability throughout their raw materials supply chains, which will ultimately be necessary for them to align with the EU’s deforestation action plan.

2) Human Rights

Businesses seeking EU bailout support should have robust policies and practices in place that recognize and ensure workers’ rights throughout their supply chains. This means a commitment to the ILO Core Conventions, which include human rights commitments on health and safety, freedom of association, gender equity and on forced, bonded, trafficked and child labor. All corporations should be committed to a living income and living wage. Tire and rubber corporations in particular should commit to recognize and respect the customary land tenure rights of Indigenous and local communities, as well as to ending all involvement in harassment, attacks, or killings of Indigenous peoples and local community members defending their land, forests and other natural resources.

This moment represents a significant opportunity to build a healthy, low and zero-carbon economy. I would be delighted to have an opportunity to discuss these proposals with you or your staff.


Glenn Hurowitz
Chief Executive Officer, Mighty Earth