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

On World Rainforest Day, Global Brands Must Honor Commitment to End Deforestation by 2020

Global coalition of environmental and human rights groups calls on Consumer Goods Forum to back sustainability promises with clear actions to protect forests, the climate, and human rights

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, on World Rainforest Day, environmental and human rights advocates called on global brands to honor their commitment to end deforestation before a self-imposed deadline expires this year.

In a newly released letter sent to the Consumer Goods Forum, a CEO-level organization that brings together over 400 global retailers and manufacturers, a large and growing coalition of more than 75 environmental and human rights groups reiterated their 2019 call for CGF members to “take ambitious and immediate action to eliminate and remedy deforestation, peatland destruction, and human rights violations throughout their supply chains and support necessary legal and policy reforms.” In addition to climate and environmental concerns, the groups are also concerned that noxious haze from burning forests will further exacerbate the public health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Last September, our organizations wrote to demand evidence that the CGF and its member companies are prepared to take real action to eliminate and remedy deforestation and human rights abuses in their supply chains,” the letter reads. “Since then, fires, deforestation, and human rights abuses have gotten worse—destroying irreplaceable ecosystems and threatening communities across Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Yet, CGF and its member companies have done little to leverage their market and supply chain influence for tangible change. Most egregiously, the CGF and its member companies have largely continued sourcing from the same suppliers responsible for deforestation and human rights abuses without repercussion or accountability—providing market access, contracts, and funds to the perpetrators of these continued violations.”

In 2009, CGF members pledged to end deforestation and human rights abuses in their supply chains by 2020, emphasizing the need for action in high risk commodities like soy, cattle, palm oil, and pulp and paper. Five years later, at the 2014 Climate Summit in New York, 60 additional companies joined in this pledge as a part of the New York Declaration on Forests. But deforestation increased last year- a disturbing trend highlighted by headline-grabbing fires in the Amazon- and early reports indicate that this year’s fire season will be even worse. Brazil just recorded its fourteenth-straight month of increased deforestation.

Ongoing and increasing deforestation poses risks to wildlife and ecosystems, exacerbates climate change, and may have disastrous public health consequences during the global COVID-19 pandemic. “The noxious haze from burning forests hospitalizes and kills hundreds of thousands of people due to respiratory illness under normal circumstances—a situation poised to be a public health catastrophe given COVID-19,” the letter notes. “These fires are preventable, and those companies that continue to provide funding and contracts to those responsible for the fires will be held publicly accountable for this unfurling environmental and human rights crisis.”

The original letter, which the CGF never responded to, asks the CGF to:

  • Reduce consumption of high-risk commodities
  • Communicate a mandatory requirement for CGF members’ suppliers to halt conversion of tropical rainforests for agricultural commodities
  • Ensure recognition and respect for local communities’ customary land rights and compliance with international standards of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) in commodity supply chains
  • Accelerate the enforcement of a moratorium on clearance of High Conservation Value (HCV) areas, High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests, and peatlands
  • Publish guidelines to address non-compliance in supply chains, including thresholds to determine the status of sourcing and suspension or termination of non-compliant suppliers, as well as formal grievance redress processes for human rights, land conflict, and labor violations
  • Adopt human rights and grievance redress policies protecting human rights defenders from violence and intimidation, including pledging zero tolerance for murder and violence against defenders
  • Update business practices to actively provide incentives and support to upstream suppliers to enable and ensure compliance
  • Publish annual reports detailing the progress of CGF member companies.
  • Support legislative and regulatory measures in demand-side markets to address deforestation linked to the international trade in agricultural commodities
  • Support and fund the necessary transition toward ecological and just food systems and large-scale forest conservation and restoration

Sumitomo Doubles Down on Coal, Releases More Rhetoric on Sustainability

Japanese conglomerate plans to continue work on disastrous coal plant project in Bangladesh despite climate, public health, budgetary, and environmental concerns

WASHINGTON, DC and TOKYO – Environmental organizations are criticizing Sumitomo Corporation, a Japanese conglomerate, after it failed to announce any new concrete actions to address climate change or end its investments in fossil fuels. Sumitomo issued a revised climate policy (Eng. translation) just before its June 19, 2020 shareholders meeting, committing the company to “carbon neutrality” by 2050. However, Sumitomo signaled no intent to abandon its involvement in coal, including the construction of the much-maligned Matarbari Coal Plant project. Mighty Earth had called upon Sumitomo to announce a concrete coal-phase out plan by its 2020 shareholder meeting and immediately end its involvement in new coal plants.

With revenues heavily impacted by COVID-19, Sumitomo Corporation announced to investors in May that it would “execute drastic structural reforms for each of our businesses and the Sumitomo Corporation Group as a whole, including the review of our strategies on portfolio management for increasing corporate value and the enhancement of sustainability management.” The revised sustainability and climate policies (Japanese) were long on rhetoric but short on action.

“On climate change, Sumitomo continues to resist making actual change,” said Roger Smith, Japan Project Manager for Mighty Earth. “Despite crashing coal prices, low energy demand, and an international movement towards ‘green recoveries,’ Sumitomo is doubling down on fossil fuels. Sumitomo needs to exit coal and end their involvement in coal plants, including Matarbari in Bangladesh where they lead the construction.”

“Sumitomo released a climate policy in August 2019 that has been proven to be largely meaningless,” said Smith. “The policy has loopholes that allow Sumitomo to continue building new coal plants it deems ‘essential,’ including dirty projects that should be abandoned, like the Van Phong I coal plant in Vietnam. Their policy doesn’t even cover building coal plants for other companies, like the Matarbari coal plants in Bangladesh.”

This week Sumitomo amended their climate policy to include a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, which would cover its energy businesses, but left in loopholes allowing them to continue to develop coal. The actions Sumitomo takes now will determine whether or not they can reduce their emissions in time.

“Sumitomo set a date to reduce emissions that is 30 years in the future without interim goals or even a timeline to develop a plan. This is too little, too late,” said Smith. “Sumitomo needs to amend their policy to completely shut the door on new coal and phase out existing coal plants globally by 2040 to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

"Bangladeshi people have as much right to clean energy and clean air as people in Japan, but Sumitomo Corporation’s climate policy loophole risks locking in decades more polluting coal power," stated Munira Chowdhury, Bangladeshi citizen and Analyst for Market Forces (an affiliate project of Friends of the Earth Australia).

"Pollution from the Matarbari Coal Plant (Phase 1) is estimated to cause up to 18,000 premature deaths during its operational years," said Hasan Mehedi, Member Secretary, Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED). "Bangladesh’s air quality has already been ranked among the worst in the world. I think Japanese citizens would be outraged to know their tax money will end up hurting and even killing people in Bangladesh."

Environmental organizations with the international No Coal Japan coalition published a “10 Reasons Why Sumitomo’s Matarbari Coal Plant is a Terrible Idea” about the over-budget, behind schedule Matarbari project in advance of Sumitomo’s AGM, with heavy promotion on social media.

“Everyone knows the Matarbari Coal Plant is an overbudget, shortsighted boondoggle,” said Smith. “For Sumitomo to double down and be involved in building a second Matarbari Coal Plant is baffling.”

"There is already enough electricity, and renewable energy is cheaper than coal in Bangladesh,” said Yuki Tanabe, a program director for Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society (JACSES). “The Government of Japan should not provide aid support for the climate-destroying Matarbari phase 2 project, and Sumitomo should not participate in any additional construction."

Sumitomo had previously told investors that the company would “continue to closely monitor international efforts and changes in the business environment, and will revise the [climate] policy as appropriate,” leading to speculation that the company would announce concrete new actions in 2020.

“We are disappointed Sumitomo has failed to show greater leadership on climate change. The COVID-19 crisis provided a perfect opportunity to dump unprofitable coal businesses and pivot to clean energy. It’s time for Sumitomo’s investors to ask when company leadership will issue their roadmap to exit coal,” concluded Smith.

Ten Reasons Why Sumitomo's Matarbari Coal Plant is a Terrible Idea

A climate disaster in the form of an over-budget, behind-schedule boondoggle

Bangladesh, already at the mercy of climate change’s rising sea levels and increasingly severe tropical cyclones, has turned to Japan for help building its energy infrastructure. But despite Bangladesh’s commitment to using 100 percent renewable energy, the Japanese government and Sumitomo Corporation are proceeding with the construction of a new coal power plant in Matarbari, next to Bangladesh’s major coastal tourist area. Unbelievably, Japan’s government is considering whether to finance yet another coal plant in Matarbari.

The first Matarbari coal plant is a disaster – it is expensive, a bad investment, and an embarrassment to Sumitomo and Japan. Here are ten reasons why a second plant should never see the light of day.

The Matarbari coal project is:

1. A mismanaged money pit
The project was already 30% over budget and at least a year behind schedule before the global pandemic hit.1 In a desperate bid to defray the project’s high costs, Japan is considering doubling-down on a bad investment and building an additional coal plant in Matarbari.2 Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is expected to decide whether to proceed with an additional plant this summer.

2. Destroying the value of the “Made in Japan” label
For decades, “Made in Japan” has long meant precision craftsmanship at reasonable prices, but that is not what Sumitomo Corporation is planning for Bangladesh. The Matarbari coal plant units 1 & 2 will use unnecessarily polluting technology that would never be allowed in Japan, polluting up to 21 times the amount of SO2 and 10 times the amount of deadly particles than an average new coal plant in Japan.3 Why is Japan dumping dirty technologies in developing countries?


Matarbari Van Phong I Japan (median emissions 25 units post 2012)
820 mg/Nm3 for SO2 360 SO2 38mg/Nm3 SO2
460 mg/Nm3 for NOx 300 NOx 54 mg/Nm3 NOx
50 mg/Nm3 for particulate matter 47 mg/Nm3 for particulate matter 5mg/Nm3 for particulate matter


3. Bad for health
The excessive pollution from the Matarbari coal plant units 1 & 2 would put nearby communities significantly over WHO health guidelines for concentrations of air pollution. Air pollution contributes to respiratory diseases and even premature death.4 The construction of additional coal plants would further pollute the air and water.

4. A dirty debt trap
The Matarbari coal plant units 1 & 2 resulted from a non-competitive bidding process, a sweetheart deal that includes up-front financing from the Japanese government and construction carried out by Sumitomo Corporation, a Japanese company.5 Japan’s assistance comes at a price -- local media reported the cost of electricity from this plant is anticipated to be excessively high due to the construction delays, cost overruns and related coal infrastructure needed. If Japan doubles down on this project to try to defray costs, it would lock Bangladeshis into a high debt, high carbon and high pollution future.

5. More expensive than renewable energy alternatives
Japan could use its technological knowhow to help Bangladesh transition to a clean, renewable energy future. Energy analysts found that solar power would not only be cleaner, but also a far cheaper approach than coal for Bangladesh, with the levelized electricity cost of solar PV estimated at $91/MWh (USD) compared to an average coal cost of $110/MWh,6 and the Matarbari Units 1 & 2 reported to produce electricity at a staggering $135/MWh (or 13.5 cents/KWh).7 Bangladeshi ratepayers should not be saddled with high energy costs when their country has an abundance of solar potential.

6. A source of new climate changing emissions in a nation vulnerable to climate impacts
Matarbari Units 1 & 2 are under construction, with the Japanese government considering financing two more coal units. This is ironic, as Bangladesh is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially sea level rise and flooding, and has joined countries in similar circumstances as part of the Climate Vulnerable Forum.

7. Bad for workers
Bangladeshi news sources have reported that construction workers for Matarbari Units 1 & 2 went on strike after being forced to work during a national lockdown for COVID-19.8 Sumitomo Corporation should ensure that its partners and contractors respect workers’ rights and health, especially during a global pandemic. This double-standard is especially hypocritical as Sumitomo Corporation’s 4000 Japanese employees were directed to work from home starting on March 1,9 well before a state of emergency was declared for the Tokyo region on April 7, 2020. Sadly, this behavior is unsurprising, as Sumitomo has weaker protections for human rights than its Japanese trading company peers10 and only established a basic human rights policy this May.11

8. Against Japan’s climate commitments
Japan’s participation in the Paris Agreement led the Cabinet to adopt a policy in 2019 to develop infrastructure which helps contribute to global reductions of CO2 emissions. It is inconsistent for the Japanese government and Japanese companies like Sumitomo continue to build coal plants abroad. Furthermore, as Bangladesh has affordable clean energy alternatives, the proposed Matarbari coal plant does not meet the test laid out in Japan’s Fifth Strategic Energy Plan (2018) that new coal would be considered: “only for countries that have no choice but to select coal as a key source of energy from the viewpoints of energy security and economic efficiency.”12

9. Bad for local residents
Densely populated, an estimated 90,000 people lived on Matarbari and relied upon shrimp farming and salt cultivation for their livelihoods. That changed in 2013 when communities were forced into a land acquisition process for 5,000 acres to make way for the new coal plants and related coal infrastructure. A survey of residents found many were unable to take part in compensation programs, not provided with alternative employment, and left without their place of work or homes.13 Advocates note that these delays in compensation, alternate housing, and employment do not meet the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s Guidelines for Environmental and Social Considerations.14

10. Bad for the tourist economy
Matarbari Island, the site of the project, lies near Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, an area beloved by tourists for its natural beauty, long sandy shorelines, wildlife sanctuaries, marine reserve, and national parks.15 Air pollution and water pollution from these new coal plants threaten the long-term viability of Cox’s Bazar as a tourist destination and damage the potential for future economic development.

The world is watching to see what Japan will do. Will Bangladeshis be locked into a dirty debt trap with high electricity prices, high air pollution and high global warming pollution? A coalition of organizations in Japan, Bangladesh and across the world are calling upon on the Japanese government to reject financing for a second coal plant at Matarbari.16 For the sake of the company’s reputation, Sumitomo Corporation should withdraw from its role managing and building the Matarbari coal plants.

Sign our petition and tell Sumitomo to be a climate leader, not part of the problem


[1] “Matarbari Power doesn’t bother to disclose Tk10,000cr cost hike.” The Business Standard. Dec. 21, 2019.

[2] “Plan to construct 2nd power plant to reduce cost of Matarbari project.” Energy Bangla.  May 31, 2019.

[3] Greenpeace Southeast Asia and Greenpeace Japan. A Deadly Double Standard — How Japan’s Financing of Highly Polluting Overseas Coal Plants Endangers Public Health. Aug. 20, 2019. p 19.

[4] A Deadly Double Standard. p. 23, 24.

[5] The tourist capital of Bangladesh is endangered by plans to build the largest coal power hub in the world. p. 24

[6] Shirashi, Kenji, Daniel Kammen, et. al. "Identifying High Priority Clean Energy Investment Opportunities for Bangladesh." International Centre for Climate Change and Development. Feb. 18, 2018. p. 2.

[7] “Plan to construct 2nd power plant to reduce cost of Matarbari project.”

[8] Samakal News link

[9] Sumitomo Corporation. “Announcement of Work from Home for All Employees” (COVID-19 countermeasure) News Release.

[10] Human Rights Now. “Survey Results and Report Regarding 7 General Trading Companies’ Human Rights Policy and Implementation Status.” Feb. 2020.
English overview:


[12] Fifth Strategic Energy Plan (Provisional Translation), July 2018. p. 72.

[13] The tourist capital of Bangladesh is endangered by plans to build the largest coal power hub in the world. p. 23-26

[14] Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society (JACSES). “Factsheet: Matarbari Ultra Super Critical Coal-Fired Power Project (Bangladesh).” Aug. 2019.

[15] Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), Waterkeepers Bangladesh. The tourist capital of Bangladesh is endangered by plans to build the largest coal power hub in the world. Nov. 2019. p. 2, 13.

[16] “Demand letter to the PM Abe: Don’t finance the phase 2 of Matarbari coal-fired power project in Bangladesh” No Coal Japan website. Apr. 6, 2020.

Mighty Earth Stands for Racial Justice

A joint statement from all of us at Mighty Earth:

The tragic killing of George Floyd has left us saddened, angry, and hurt. We mourn for George Floyd as we have for Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and too many others.

Racism is endemic in the U.S., and we must speak the truth about it. We have seen it in our work, where so many of the issues we care about – air and water pollution, climate change, destruction of native ecosystems, and the global pandemic – disproportionately harm or target black communities, local communities, Indigenous peoples, and other communities of color. And we have seen it in our movement, because no organization, system, or campaign in this country is immune to the destructive influences of white supremacy and systemic racism.

Our fight against these ecological crises is therefore inextricable from our struggle against the systems of oppression. There is no climate justice without racial justice.

We at Mighty Earth condemn racism in all its forms and resolve to find new ways to fight it. We reject police brutality and defend the indispensable right to protest, so that individual and collective voices can fight for – and win – justice and equality.

We pledge to continue the hard but essential work to improve ourselves and our own behaviors, engage deeply with the communities in which we live and work while prioritizing the voices of those most affected, and challenge and heal the violence of structural oppression. 

We stand in solidarity with those targeted by police violence and the protesters demanding justice. Black Lives Matter.

Supermarkets Urged to Actually Stop Buying from Companies Destroying the Amazon

Ahold Delhaize, Costco, Metro, and more urged to immediately adopt robust sourcing policies to build on success of recent demands that Brazil stop allowing bulldozing of Amazon, killing of Indigenous people

WASHINGTON, DC – In new letters released publicly today, Mighty Earth is calling on 21 of the largest supermarkets and retailers in Europe and the United States to back up their stated commitments to environmental standards with new policies that would immediately cancel contracts with deforesting suppliers including Cargill, Bunge, and JBS.

"Forests around the world are being intentionally torched. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is higher than it’s been in a decade, and anti-environment fanatics are determined to use the cover of the coronavirus pandemic to wreak further havoc," said Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz. "Our planet is in crisis. The time for polite requests to stop deforestation has passed. It’s time to cut contracts with those responsible. Customers are demanding sustainable options, and simply do not want their local grocery store stocking its shelves with products of destroyed rainforests and ethnic cleansing."

The letters, sent to the CEOs of Ahold Delhaize, Albertsons Companies, Amazon, Aramark, Compass Group, Costco, Edeka Group, Kroger, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Metro Group, Morisons, Rewe, Sainsbury's, Sysco, Target, Tesco, Trader Joe's, Walmart, Wegmans, and Whole Foods, note that the recent actions of British supermarkets have "demonstrated the power that the private sector can deploy to protect the environment and human rights." The letter is also being sent to consumer goods companies like Unilever and Mars .

An open letter to the Brazilian Congress warned that a proposed law to open up the Amazon rainforest to further destruction would "put at risk the ability of organisations such as ours to continue sourcing from Brazil in the future," citing the Amazon’s wildlife and its crucial role in the climate and water cycles. Upon receiving the letter, the Brazilian government almost immediately delayed voting on the bill. Many of the companies that Mighty Earth has reached out to were signatories on the British supermarket letter.

"These companies have the market leverage and they have demonstrated the capacity and willingness to use it. We have seen market pressure work to prevent environmental destruction – and remarkably quickly," said Hurowitz. "But food brans now must turn their attention to dealing with suppliers that are driving this deforestation. If these companies can move the Brazilian government, they can move the companies that rely on supplier contracts to stay in business."

The letters outline the ongoing crisis, saying that "deforestation in South America has surged over the last year, in large measure because a small number of critical companies that supply meat and animal feed continue to drive massive deforestation and human rights abuses. We are therefore calling on you to adopt a no-deforestation policy with a clear non-compliance protocol that results in suspended or cancelled contracts with violating suppliers such as Cargill, Bunge, and JBS."

Investigations into the destruction in South America have repeatedly uncovered these three companies at the root of the problem. Chain Reaction Research recently released an investor report that documented that the number of fires identified in the vicinity of Bunge and Cargill facilities was higher than all the other main soy traders combined.  Similarly, in cattle, JBS alone had 317,096 fires inside its buying area, triple what the next largest fire-linked company had. The findings echoed Mighty Earth’s mapping analysis from 2019.

In Bolivia, where Cargill is the leading international soy trader, the company has been tied to repeated deforestation, with similar results for Cargill and Bunge in Argentina and Paraguay, respectively. These companies have also been linked to irresponsible labor practices, endangering workers during the coronavirus crisis with unsafe working conditions even as their practices around the globe make the next pandemic more likely.


High resolution photos and videos are available for use – please contact [email protected] for access.

Mighty Earth reports

Additional materials

Grocery Stores Threatening Brazil Boycott Must Go Further to Truly Protect Forests

Leading international supermarkets recently wrote a letter to Brazilian lawmakers, threatening a boycott over a proposed law that would open up the Amazon to deforestation and exploitation. In response to the letter, Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz released the following statement:

"It's great to see supermarkets like Stop & Shop owner Ahold Delhaize stepping up and using their leverage as major buyers from Brazil to stop this terrible bill. These companies seem to understand that ongoing complicity in President Jair Bolsonaro's ecocide poses a severe danger to their reputations and brands. They are right. Nobody wants to go to their local grocery store and buy chicken or steak connected to the destruction of an ancient rainforest or the displacement of Indigenous peoples.

“But these companies shouldn’t need the threat of this legislation to act. Day in and day out, Stop & Shop is keeping suppliers like Cargill and JBS – the companies largely responsible for the destruction of the Amazon and other ecosystems – in business by buying their meat and feed.

"Until grocery stores start canceling contracts with the suppliers driving the burning of the Amazon, they remain complicit in the destruction. Their customers and the world expect these brands not just to call for action, but to act."

European Tire & Rubber Manufacturers Plan to Put More Vehicles on the Roads in Response to Covid-19

On May 5, 2020, the European Tire and Rubber Manufacturers' Association (ETRMA) published an Action Plan for the EU to kick-start the automotive sector following the Covid-19 pandemic. In response, Mighty Earth Senior Campaign Director Julian Oram released the following statement:

"While we welcome the industry's stated commitment to the European Green Deal, we believe that one of the key demands of the ETRMA's Action Plan could be at odds with such a pledge.

"ETRMA's proposal for an EU-funded vehicle renewal scheme would likely increase car ownership and could pose serious public health risks. Even if coupled with incentives for private owners to trade in older vehicles for newer ones, the overall impact of the program is likely to be more cars on Europe's roads, exacerbating congestion and increasing pollution and emissions. Europe needs to be moving in precisely the opposite direction: looking to reduce private car ownership, boost spending on clean, green forms of public mobility, and cut particulate emissions that could exacerbate respiratory problems for people infected with Covid-19.

"The ERTMA's demand to 'postpone all non-essential public consultations' combined with a call to accelerate the EU's vehicle type approval process 'as quickly as possible' could also set a worrying precedent of bypassing important democratic checks and balances in regulatory oversight and should be strongly resisted by the European Commission.

"EU bailout packages should be strictly conditional on building new, low-carbon economy. Any policy incentives or financial assistance directed towards auto, tire, and rubber companies cannot simply seek to resuscitate thindustry as it was, but must instead help stimulate a green transformation. In the wake of the current crisis, such a transition is more urgent than ever. Mighty Earth will therefore endeavor to work with both policymakers and members of the ERTMA to ensure that short-term measures to support the sector are fully aligned with the longer-term vision of a new Green Deal for Europe."


Image: Photo by Sorin Gheorghita on Unsplash

Mighty Earth joins call for Green Recovery for EU Agriculture

This week, Mighty Earth, along with 38 other organizations, signed an open letter urging the EU to publish its new "Farm to Fork" strategy to transition European agriculture towards a greener, healthier future. 


The letter, addressed to senior European Commission officials, notes that the current COVID-19 pandemic reinforces the urgency of public policy measures designed to change the way we grow and consume food. It calls on the EU to deliver "...a Common Food Policy that is forward-looking, precautionary, resilient, social and health orientated, with an ambitious Farm to Fork strategy." 


Mighty Earth and our allies believe that the Commission's strategy must ensure that future food production in Europe drastically reduces greenhouse gas emissions, reverses biodiversity loss cased by intensive agricultural practices, and minimizes the impacts of farming on freshwater resources and ecosystems.


You can read the letter here.

Mighty Earth Chairman Henry Waxman Responds to Trump Administration's Fuel Efficiency Rollbacks

In response to the Trump Administration's rollback of Obama era fuel efficiency rules, Mighty Earth Chairman Henry Waxman has released the following statement: 

“American taxpayers rescued the auto industry in 2009, but demanded and received a commitment from the auto industry to finally make better, more fuel efficient cars. The Obama standards saved lives, reduced pollution, and would save drivers thousands of dollars per car in gas costs."

"It’s shameful that auto companies like GM and Toyota have violated the spirit of this deal through their complicity in the gutting of this critical environmental and public health policy, and they should be held accountable. We can’t rely on Trump to protect the environment, but it’s time for consumers to stop patronizing auto companies that aren’t living up to their most basic environmental promises.”

Architects, Engineers, Builders, and Activists Declare 2030 Must Become the New 2050 in the Climate Emergency

Steel and concrete industries targeted by their top customers in design and construction for dramatic GHG emissions reductions in next ten years.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA -- This week, the top 20 percent of the global design industry – representing approximately 500 organizations – gathered at the Carbon Positive 20 Conference in Los Angeles. Their challenge was to form corporate commitments and design pathways for reducing the “embodied” or upfront emissions from building materials like steel and concrete. Steel and concrete represent approximately 15 percent of all global emissions and are the most ubiquitous building materials in the world, with construction accounting for about half of all steel demand and all of concrete demand.

Attending the conference were not just top design leaders but also representatives from top construction, steel, and concrete companies (Skanska, Turner Construction, CEMEX) who were listening closely to what their customers were demanding of them: low and zero carbon construction materials. These commodities are needed right now to address the climate emergency, and industry’s demand for these products will grow exponentially in the next few years.

During her panel presentation titled “Better Steel, Better Concrete,” Mighty Earth Campaign Director Margaret Hansbrough was joined by global concrete expert Bruce King and leading embodied carbon pioneer and Dirk Kestner. In her presentation, she challenged the steel industry and its largest customers in the global design and construction industries to set emissions reductions targets aligned with the 65 percent by 2030 target Architecture 2030 has stated is essential if the world is going to stay within the 1.5 degree planetary warming threshold. But she also challenged these heavy polluting industries like steel, concrete, and construction to shift their entire business strategy, saying “This is not just about reducing the carbon from any single project, but about planning for how you as a company will decarbonize your entire business strategy starting today.”

Hansbrough and many other speakers also called for both product level and production facility level Environmental Product Disclosures (EPDs) to be issued by major steel and concrete companies this year in order for design professionals to have the carbon transparency they need to dramatically reduce embodied carbon for all new projects.

Highlights of the historic event included:

  • Architecture 2030’s CEO Ed Mazria challenged companies to commit to net zero emissions by 2040 for all materials in the built environment, including an immediate 50 percent reduction in embodied carbon and 65 percent reduction by 2030 for all construction materials
  • Mazria went even further, asking leading companies to commit to what he describes as the “High Ambition” targets of 100 percent net zero carbon from building materials by 2030 – and to make that commitment public this year. These targets are calculated to ensure a 67 percent likelihood that the planet can stay within 1.5 degree Celsius planetary warming threshold
  • Mazria also underscored the urgent time value of carbon with a data visualization illustrating how, in the next 10 years, 72 percent of the carbon that the built environment will emit will be from embodied, not operational, carbon.
  • Also announced during the conference was the formation of SE 2050, an alliance of structural engineers working together to align around the Architecture 2030 net zero emissions framework for both embodied and operational carbon.
  • The American Institute for Architects (AIA) and the leadership of the Large Firm Round Table rolled out a comprehensive framework called Countdown On Carbon for embodied carbon commitments and actions that they will be asking all AIA members to sign on to this year, the most aggressive and comprehensive demand signal to date for low carbon steel and concrete.
  • The event ended with an invigorating and motivating speech from Farhana Yamin, a longtime influential climate lawyer and prominent Extinction Rebellion activist who challenged the crowd to “make 2030 the new 2050” and dramatically raise their ambition and action for what was achievable. She challenged the audience to declare a climate emergency, just as architects in the UK have already done, in order to mobilize the collective action needed to dramatically reduce emissions from their industries and from the materials they use.

The Carbon Positive 20 Conference was organized by Architecture 2030 and Architect Magazine and was the largest industry event to date focused entirely on embodied carbon from construction materials like steel and concrete.

For the last 18 months, Mighty Earth has been campaigning and activating the global steel and construction industries to take bold climate action, demanding that the steel industry set a new standard for low and zero carbon steelmaking and commit to carbon neutrality. For more campaign statements and reports, visit

New Investigation: Sumitomo Corporation’s Dirty Energy Investments Highlight Japan’s Failure to Act on Climate

New Investigation: Sumitomo Corporation’s Dirty Energy Investments Highlight Japan’s Failure to Act on Climate

As the international community gathers in Madrid to discuss next steps in the fight against global climate change, a new report is exposing how Japan’s policies are empowering a major corporation that embraces and invests in dirty energy sources like coal and biomass. Mighty Earth’s new report, “Sumitomo Corporation’s Dirty Energy Trade: Biomass, Coal, and Japan’s Future,” illustrates how the massive, Tokyo-based trading company lies at the heart of global coal and biomass networks that mine, chop, finance, ship, and burn the most destructive fuels on Earth. From the American southeast to British Columbia to Vietnam, Sumitomo Corporation is putting global forests at risk to generate electricity for Japan.

“Sumitomo Corporation is moving Japan backwards on climate both at home and abroad,” said Roger Smith, Japan Project Manager at Mighty Earth. “At a time when other countries are negotiating deeper emissions cuts, Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation instead is deepening the problem by continuing to invest in the dirtiest sources of fuel.”

Mighty Earth is calling on Sumitomo Corporation to immediately adopt and implement a ‘No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation’ (NDPE) policy and make a public commitment to end involvement in all coal generation and mining of thermal coal globally by 2030.

An Unrepentant Polluter – Sumitomo Corporation’s Coal Business

Sumitomo Corporation has played a pivotal role facilitating coal imports to Japan. And now, as the climate crisis increasingly dominates international headlines, Japan is the only G7 nation still adding to its domestic coal generation. Sumitomo is a key part of this trend; the company continues to own and invest in coal mines, through which it supplies Japan with more than 6 million tons of coal each year.

Sumitomo is also at the forefront of the construction of dirty coal plants abroad. The company is currently building new, polluting coal-fired power plants in Vietnam, Indonesia, and Bangladesh. One of the coal plants Sumitomo is linked to – the Van Phong 1 plant in Vietnam – is particularly controversial as its construction is expected to contribute to approximately 1,900 premature deaths from air pollution over its period of operations.

“Even in the Japanese market where progress on clean energy is moving at a snail’s pace, Sumitomo Corporation is lagging behind its peers.  Through its policy riddled with loopholes, Sumitomo has left itself the space to push ahead any number of coal power stations, including the Van Phong 1 coal power station in Vietnam, a project up to nine times more polluting than the average new build in Japan. The company is also expanding coal power in Bangladesh with two new 1200 MW coal power stations.” said Julien Vincent, Executive Director of Market Forces.

“Building a coal power station in 2019 is foolhardy, when scientific experts agree that to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, we can’t build any more coal power. With international investors increasingly viewing coal as a stranded asset and moving finance out of the sector, many will question why Sumitomo continues to pursue these risky deals.”

Trashing Forests for Fuel – Sumitomo Corporation’s Biomass Business

Japan’s soaring consumption of wood biomass is a crisis in the making. The amount of wood pellets imported into Japan to burn for electricity increased five-fold between 2014 and 2017, placing Japan among the top consumers of wood biomass. Protecting existing forests, which store carbon from the atmosphere, is essential to combating the climate crisis. Increased logging for biomass degrades natural forests and results in forests turned into carbon-poor tree plantations. This process of chopping down trees abroad, processing the wood, and shipping them across oceans to Japan requires the burning of large amounts of fossil fuels.

Sumitomo Corporation is Japan’s leading importer of wood pellets and wood chips, both of which are burned for electricity. Sumitomo has a 55 percent market share of imported wood pellets. The company states that it intends to control 40 percent – 1.6 million tons – of all imported biomass fuel by 2021.

In 2017, Sumitomo Corporation acquired a 48 percent share of Canadian-based biomass producer Pacific BioEnergy, raising concerns about increased logging in the delicate Boreal forests of British Columbia. Sumitomo also contracts for wood pellets with Enviva Partners, a company tied to the logging of critically endangered forests in the Southeastern United States. In North Carolina and other southeastern states, foreign demand for wood pellets has placed additional pressure on an already highly degraded landscape.

“Forests of the Southern US are not only important to communities, but they are the world’s most biologically-diverse temperate forests,” Dogwood Alliance Campaign Director Rita Frost said. “These forests are under immense threat from logging caused by the wood pellet biomass industry, led by Enviva. Enviva’s logging is enabled by overseas companies, like Sumitomo, and will lead to further degradation and loss of our forests. We call on Sumitomo to end their use of imported wood pellets from the Southern United States. Our forests aren’t fuel.”

Climate Laggards

While Sumitomo released a climate policy in August of 2019, it fell overwhelmingly short. While the company pledged not to develop new coal-fired plants, they allowed a glaring loophole for plants deemed to be “essential”, explicitly exempting the Van Phong I project. The policy also lacks a plan or timeline to phase-out coal plants or production of thermal coal. Sumitomo Corporation cannot both be committed to alleviating climate change and also involved in the expansion of coal generation.

Sumitomo has an opportunity to be a climate champion by developing truly clean energy,” said Smith. “Climate change is a crisis that affects our entire world, and we need companies like Sumitomo to lead the way toward solutions. Actions, not just their words, are what matter.”

Mighty Earth and its partners are calling on Sumitomo to develop a detailed implementation plan to exit from coal generation and thermal coal mining by their 2020 annual general meeting, move away from imported forest-derived biomass as a fuel source, adopt a company-wide “No Deforestation, No Exploitation” commitment to forest sustainability, and shift investments into truly clean renewable energy sources.

Cargill's Uninspiring Climate Commitment

In response to Cargill's latest announcement regarding the company's contribution to climate change and its plans for emissions reductions, Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz released the following statement:

"Cargill has once again demonstrated its penchant for generating nice headlines with positive sounding but substance-less commitments.

"Cargill is finally recognizing that a trader’s impact is in what they trade – and Cargill is trading in unsustainable and environmentally destructive goods. But announcing ill-defined and unenforceable less-than-half measures is meaningless.

"Cargill's track record does not inspire confidence that today's announcement will lead to tangible results. As with its commitment earlier this year to spend $30 million on a to-be-determined strategy to fight deforestation, the company's spokespeople have admitted that they do not know how to implement this commitment.

"And like Cargill's pledge to eliminate deforestation from key supply chains by 2020, successful implementation is a less likely outcome than another pained acknowledgement that they will fail to meet the goal.

"Cargill keeps saying they want to do something. They've articulated the 'want' but not the 'something.'"

Mighty Earth, ArcelorMittal, Lendlease, Daimler, HSBC & Others Launch ResponsibleSteel™, The World's First Sustainability Standard For The Steel Industry

WOLLONGONG, NEW SOUTH WALES – Today, Mighty Earth joined leading steel companies, including ArcelorMittal and Blue Scope, leading construction and development company Lendlease, major automakers Daimler and BMW, and many other civil society partners to announce the launch of the ResponsibleSteel Standard, the world’s first international, multi-stakeholder standard for responsible production for steel making and processing sites. The announcement was made during the ResponsibleSteel’s Forum II in Wollongong, Australia.

The new standard seeks to holistically address many challenges in the steel manufacturing process, including how to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from steel production, implementing sustainable mining practices, and protecting labour rights, water quality, biodiversity, and human rights. The ResponsibleSteel Standard helps the steel industry address these challenges by setting a universal baseline, establishing the fundamental elements and the required levels of implementation for sourcing and production of steel to be labelled responsible. Taken together, the new standard supports ResponsibleSteel’s vision: to maximize steel's contribution to a sustainable society.

“In our work at Mighty Earth, we have seen entire industries transform when market leaders work together to advance ambitious voluntary commitments for climate, environment, and human rights,” said Mighty Earth Campaign Director Margaret Hansbrough. “Today, we are seeing leaders step forward in the steel industry, an industry responsible for approximately 7 to 9 percent of global emissions. When companies and civil society step up together, big things can happen. This rigorous yet accessible standard is the result of a deeply collaborative stakeholder process which we will continue to leverage to bring forth even bolder goals to ensure a 1.5-degree threshold is possible. This urgent work has only just begun.”

In the fall of 2018, Mighty Earth released two seismic reports, Cold Steel, Hot Climate and Construction Destruction, which helped to activate the global steel and construction industries to make commitments to clean energy and carbon neutrality. Through engagement with the steel industry and its biggest customers, Mighty Earth is starting to see real climate action taking shape. The launch of ResponsibleSteel marks a new milestone in this engagement.

Also announced at the forum were new members of ResponsibleSteel, including Lendlease, one of the top building and development companies in the world, which was named in the Construction Destruction report. Additional new members include Anglo American, Carport, Clean Air Task Force, Harsco and new Associate Members ACRS (Australasian Certification Authority for Reinforcing and Structural Steels certification), GUTcert GmbH, HERA (Heavy Engineering Research Association), RTQMS (Real Time Quality Management Services), Sustainable Steel Council, and United Certification Systems.

"This is a huge milestone for both ResponsibleSteel and for its members and supporters," said Matthew Wenban-Smith, Executive Director of ResponsibleSteel. "The ResponsibleSteel Standard has been developed through a rigorous process of public consultation, membership approval and board ratification, and we are pleased it is now available to support the responsible sourcing and production of steel. Civil society groups like Mighty Earth have been critical to making this standard the best it can be for people and the planet" (emphasis added).

The Standard consists of twelve principles: Corporate Leadership; Social Environmental and Governance Management Systems; Occupational Health and Safety; Labour Rights; Human Rights; Stakeholder Engagement and Communication; Local Communities; Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Emissions; Noise, Emissions, Effluent and Waste; Water Stewardship; Biodiversity; and Decommissioning and Closure.

As a multi-stakeholder organization, ResponsibleSteel sought to engage the voices of its members and a broad range of interested parties in the standard development process. The Standard was approved by a ballot of the ResponsibleSteel membership and formally ratified by the ResponsibleSteel Board of Directors in November 2019, as member organizations are required to adopt science-based emissions reduction targets in line with a 1.5-degree scenario.

ResponsibleSteel has developed tools to help organizations implement the Standard, including Implementation Instructions and an Assurance Manual. The first auditor training workshop was held in London on 18-20 November. It is expected that the first certified steel sites audited with ResponsibleSteel Standard will be announced in the first half of 2020.

Additional Resources


Global Finance Leader HSBC Calls for Carbon-Neutral Steel

Steel is currently the largest source of industrial carbon emissions

HSBC, a global leader in banking and finance, has issued a new report calling for a “transition to responsible, zero carbon steel making.” This new report echoes Mighty Earth’s earlier reports – Cold Steel, Hot Climate and Construction Destruction – which focused on advances the steel and construction industries must undertake to solve the climate crisis and the potential for customers to create the demand for a new, more responsible steel industry. Mighty Earth Campaign Director Margaret Hansbrough, author of the two reports, released the following statement in response to HSBC’s new publication:

“This groundbreaking report from HSBC is the first time that a global financial leader has demonstrated a sophisticated enough understanding of the severity of the climate crisis in the context of the steel industry, which accounts for about 7-9 percent of emissions, and the urgent need to rapidly shift toward a carbon-neutral steel industry.

“For the last year, Mighty Earth has been sounding the alarm on steel and other heavy industrial carbon emissions and calling on the construction industry to drive demand for carbon-neutral steel. The conversation is changing, and HSBC’s instructive and incisive report has elevated this critical issue to a pivotal point. But we can’t wait another year for corporate commitments and major capital shifts – it will be too late. 

“Every banker, investment manager, financial regulator, and ratings agency in the world should be shaken up by this report. They should immediately ask the steel companies they do business with some tough questions. How will companies begin decarbonizing their assets? Will they invest in the necessary R&D to achieve the low-carbon transition milestones necessary to ensure a 1.5 degree warming scenario? What are their climate risks, and how fast are companies and the industry as a whole working to mitigate their climate impacts to manage those risks?

“The HSBC report makes two critical points. First, it underscores how critical steel will be to the growth of the clean energy and net-zero supply chains. Second, it demonstrates that there are lots of solutions and viable pathways for low and zero emissions steel right now. These are two of the many reasons Mighty Earth has been working with HSBC through ResponsibleSteel over the last year. We both know that by driving demand for responsible, zero-carbon steel and demonstrating the value for steel companies to participate, we can turn the tide on the climate crisis.

“This signal from global finance also means it’s past time for ArcelorMittal, Thyssunkrupp, Tata Steel and other big global steel players to start walking the walk when it comes to their own portfolios, supply chains, and policy agendas. If bankers are asking them for this, then it’s time for these companies to lead on policy solutions too. They need to engage in a robust, vocal, and constructive way in Europe and elsewhere right now to help set the most aggressive industrial decarbonization policy possible to benefit people and the planet.”


Photo Credit: Gyver Chang via Flickr (Modified)


Breakthrough Embodied Carbon Tool for Construction Only A First Step Toward Market Transformation

Statement from Mighty Earth Campaign Director Margaret Hansbrough in response to the public launch of the free Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) at the USGBC Greenbuild Conference in Atlanta this week:

“A huge congratulations are in order for everyone at the Carbon Leadership Forum who has worked diligently over the last year to make this tool ready for primetime and—importantly—free and accessible. It’s a testament to their commitment to the issue of embodied carbon and to how well they have channeled their collective expertise to make an impact. Skanska USA and Microsoft deserve special credit for being the pioneers in using this tool and working hard to perfect it.

“The ability for design and construction professionals to leverage Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) so they can analyze which products have the lowest embodied carbon and use them in their projects is something we called for in our Construction Destruction report, released at Greenbuild last year in Chicago. This ability is an important and necessary early step, but we also called for the construction industry to begin making companywide asks of their steel and other materials suppliers to do away with industry average EPDs and adopt product- and site-specific ones. Most importantly, we called upon Skanska, Clark Construction, AECOM, Turner Construction, Lendlease, and all the other top builders to explicitly demand public plans for decarbonization from the steel companies they buy from.

“It’s not enough to buy good products, you have to be able to buy good products from a good company. Otherwise, there will not be enough incentive for steel producers to build the critical mass they need for industry wide decarbonization, and bad actors will continue to escape accountability without fear of losing business.

“In October, the top design firms all gathered in Chicago at the behest of Architecture 2030 and set a goal of 65 percent reduction in embodied carbon from construction of buildings and infrastructure by 2030. This goal was set to align with a 1.5-degree scenario and is incredibly ambitious and necessary since construction uses most of the world’s steel, concrete, and aluminum. Those materials alone account for 22 percent of global emissions. We are going to need all kinds of technical solutions like EC3 to tackle this enormous challenge, but more than anything we are going to need driven, creative, and courageous professionals in the design and construction world to act each day with greater urgency—and demand more than they have before from themselves and each other.”

House Legislation Would Extend Corporate Giveaways for Forest-Destroying Bioenergy

This week, the House Ways and Means Committee released a discussion draft of the Growing Renewable Energy and Efficiency Now (GREEN) Act. As drafted, the legislation would continue providing tax incentives for the biomass and biodiesel industries through 2024. In response, Mighty Earth Campaign Director Rose Garr released the following statement:

“The GREEN Act is a tremendous disappointment. While many of provisions are in line with the science on climate change and biodiversity, too many are corporate handouts that will hurt the environment. The provisions in this bill that extend tax breaks for biomass and biofuels will encourage the destruction and degradation of forests and other habitats in the U.S. and around the world by incentivizing dirty energy generation. These are giveaways to the timber and agribusiness lobbies and an insult to anyone who wants to save forests, protect endangered species, conserve land, and address the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity collapse.

“You can be a climate champion, or you can be a biodiesel and biomass supporter, but you cannot be both. Solving the climate crisis requires the leadership to not only advance solutions but to also reject false ones. It appears this distinction has been lost.”