Joe Biden and Congress must stop deforestation in order to prevent the next pandemic

Ending deforestation is our best chance to conserve wildlife, one of the quickest and most cost effective ways to curb global warming, and absolutely crucial to prevent the next deadly, global pandemic.

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New Campaign Tells Big Business: Protect Forests to Prevent Pandemics

WASHINGTON, DC – Environmental organization Mighty Earth launched the latest phase of its campaign to protect tropical forests today with a new video calling on major corporations to protect forests to help prevent the next global pandemic.

“We are still in the grips of COVID-19, but there’s nothing that says we’ll only have to deal with one pandemic at a time. We should not wait for this storm to pass before we prepare for the next one,” said Sarah Lake, Mighty Earth VP and Global Director for Latin America. “COVID-19, like SARS, MERS, Ebola, and AIDS before it, likely emerged from the sort of human-wildlife interaction that deforestation fosters. Indeed, destruction of native ecosystems is the single greatest risk factor for new pandemics. The companies driving ecological destruction in tropical forests – like Cargill and JBS – must be held to account for their recklessness. And that means that the stores people trust, like Costco, need to stop doing business with them.”

Mighty Earth has released a video highlighting the link between forest destruction and zoonosis – the transmission of disease from animal hosts to human populations – and singled out multinational agribusiness giants as the biggest offenders.

“As Cargill and JBS bulldoze and incinerate these environments, this destruction of natural habitat causes mosquito populations to explode and forces bats and rodents to find new homes deeper into our communities, carrying with them potential new diseases and increasing the risk that these diseases will jump from animal to human,” the video’s narration says. ”This combination of human proximity and disease-carrying wildlife is the perfect Petri dish to breed dangerous new viruses and spread them across the globe.”

Mighty Earth has previously documented how these companies drive deforestation and fires in Latin America, accelerating the twin crises of climate change and mass extinction while trampling on the rights of Indigenous people and local communities.

“We have long known that these companies are behind the felled trees and choking smoke, and so have the supermarkets that continue to do business with them,” said Lake. “But in the past year, we’ve all come to understand just how dangerous it is to continue to destroy forests. We can’t risk another global pandemic. And as Dr. Monica Nirmala told us earlier this year, healthy forests just might be humanity’s best antivirus.”

Additional Resources:


Warren Khanna Letter Highlights Need to Stop Deforestation to Prevent Pandemics

More than 141 U.S. senators and representatives have signed onto a letter that emphasizes a need for comprehensive action to prevent and mitigate future pandemics. The letter outlines five key steps that Congressional leadership should take including halting "environmental degradation that increases the likelihood of global pandemics." We know that one of the most important ways to prevent future pandemics is to stop deforestation and this letter stresses that even as we respond to the current pandemic, we must still be preparing for the next one.

The full letter 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. 

Greening the New Normal

Greening the New Normal

By Monica Nirmala

What’s good for nature is good for us. What hurts nature, brings disease to us. The novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is thought to have come from wildlife. In a few months, Covid-19 has infected more than 14 million people, killed more than 600,000, and devastated the world economy. Could it be that Covid-19 is actually the result of human activity disturbing the balance of nature which then threatens to threaten the safety of all of us?

Researchers are probing the origins of Covid-19 by studying the genetics of the virus. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is thought to have originated in bats. Bats and coronaviruses have actually co-existed for millions of years. The novel coronavirus is harmless to bats, but can become fatal when it manages to “jump” into other species. In the case of Covid-19, the coronavirus is thought to have jumped from bats to pangolins (as intermediate hosts) and then managed to jump to humans.

Zoonoses — diseases in humans of animal origin —do not self-generate. Bats or pangolins don’t suddenly naturally appear in human settlements and then transmit the virus. Instead, zoonoses emerge because of human activity – hunting, destruction of wildlife habitats, and the illegal trade and consumption of wildlife.

The nongovernmental organization TRAFFIC which combats the illegal wildlife trade reported that Indonesia was the world’s largest supplier (83 percent) of the world’s illegal pangolin trade from 2010 to 2015. TRAFFIC estimates that trade involved the of up to 10,000 pangolins annually. Could it be that some of the wildlife traded in the wet market in Wuhan – the acknowledged ground zero of what subsequently became the coronavirus pandemic – originated in Indonesia?

Covid-19 may be the worst deadly zoonotic illness humanity has encountered in the past century, but it’s not the first. Over the last 40 years, a combination of shrinking animal habitats, rising human populations, contamination of food and water sources, and various other factors have helped spawn a succession of outbreaks of deadly zoonotic illnesses including SARS, Ebola, HIV-AIDs and MERS. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in its Preventing the Next Pandemic (2020) report warns that 75 percent of new emerging infectious diseases originate from animals.

Not Only Zoonoses

Apart from Covid-19, there are many other examples of how human destruction of natural habitats harms human health. For example, the people of Borneo believe that when forests are cleared, disease will arise, such as plague. Scientists have proven the veracity of that Bornean belief.

Scientist Garg (2017) proved that a one percent reduction in forest cover in Indonesia increased incidence of malaria by 10 percent. In fact, Chakrabarti (2018) shows that in Indonesia, the firstborn children of forest dwelling mothers whose environment is damaged during pregnancy have a higher risk of death than subsequent children.In Cambodia, Pienkowski (2018) observed that forest destruction has resulted in increased incidence of  diarrhea, fever and respiratory infections – the main causes of death for children under five in that country.

Destruction of forest habitat also affects the health of city dwellers. Globally, based on the Pollution and Health Metrics report by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (2019), pollution due to industrialization and urbanization kills 5.3 million people every year. In Indonesia, pollution of air, water, land and various other forms of pollution is estimated to kill 230,000 people every year. This figure far exceeds the victims of the devastating 2004 tsunami in 2004.

Health protocols

The new normal speaks of adopting new habits for a safe and healthy life. Doing 3M (wearing a mask, keeping your distance, and washing your hands), and avoiding 3Rs (closed rooms, crowded, and close talk) are very important to prevent Covid-19 transmission.

However, is this protocol enough to create a safe and healthy future? Can this protocol prevent a recurrence of a pandemic such as Covid-19? Our health depends not only on a strong health care system. In his book A Call to Be Whole: The Fundamentals of Healthcare Reform, Sowada (2003) explains that medical services actually only contribute 20 percent to human health. More than half (55 percent) of the factors that contribute to our health come from the environment and society, including the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the support of those around us.

The rest are behavioral and genetic factors. Therefore, human health is not only a matter for the health sector. In fact, there is a saying that health is too important to be left only to doctors.

Covid-19 Green Wisdom

The spread of the novel coronavirus and Covid-19 began with an unbalanced interaction between humans and nature which was then spread by global linkages. Now we must not forget that plagues can be only one flight away from us.

With 40,000 flight connections worldwide, events anywhere in the world can rapidly spread to all corners of the globe. And plagues knows no boundaries of administration, political choice, religion, or race. We are all connected to each other and each of us can be impacted.

Covid-19 is a symptom of a sick earth. The remedy is that each of us needs to try to live in balance with nature. In the new normal, environmental factors need to be taken into account in every decision – small or large – that we take, either individually or collectively, at the institutional, regional, national, and global levels. Illegal forest encroachment and wildlife trade must stop, in order to prevent a recurrence of the pandemic. Let the wild live in the wild.

With Covid-19, humanity has been forced to pause to reflect and take lessons. For a safe and healthy future for us and our children and grandchildren, living in balance with nature needs to become our “health protocol” in the new era of normality. Could it be that Covid-19 is an opportunity that God gave mankind to love nature before it’s too late?

Monica Nirmala
Harvard University alumnus, Fulbright Scholar; Senior Public Health Adviser at Yayasan Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), West Kalimantan

Haze in Central Kalimantan

Toxic Forest Fires and COVID-19 Could Be a Deadly Combination in Southeast Asia

By Etelle Higonnet and Erika Dailey

Every summer since the 1990s, toxic smog has descended over Southeast Asian countries, as dangerous fumes from raging tropical forest and peatland fires in Indonesia spill over into Malaysia and Singapore. However, this year, the smog and the COVID-19 pandemic could pose a double crisis, as experts say that air pollution could exacerbate the number of coronavirus deaths.

While the area consumed by fires so far this year pales in comparison to 2019, the Indonesian province of Central Kalimantan—the country’s third largest—has already declared a state of emergency lasting from July 1 until September 28, after provincial authorities identified more than 700 active fires since the start of the year. If Indonesian authorities do not succeed in controlling the fires in Central Kalimantan, the Malaysian Meteorological Department expects the seasonal cross-border haze to hit the country again this year in August or September. Meanwhile, Indonesia already has one of the highest death rates from the pandemic in Asia, and cases continue to rise.

The hazardous haze is no accident. Every year the region suffocates from fires, which are frequently used by companies and farmers to clear forest and peatland to prepare land for oil palm plantations. Peatland fires cause carbon-rich soils to burn for days or weeks, even smoldering underground and re-emerging away from the initial source. This makes these fires difficult to extinguish, unpredictable and uncontrollable.

The fires are visible from outer space, and last year, photos of the annual fires in Indonesia turning the sky blood red went viral. But these fires aren’t just an eyesore; they’re also an environmental and public health emergency that forces tens of millions of people to inhale toxic fumes for months on end. In 2015, wildfire smoke consumed 2 million hectares of forest, exposed 69 million people to unhealthy levels of smog and is estimated to have caused over 100,000 premature deaths in that year alone. Smog from Indonesia even reached the island of Guam, more than 2,000 miles away. The 2015 episode also burned and killed endangered orangutans and destroyed so much of their habitat that scientists estimated that it could wipe out a third of the remaining wild population. Moreover, the fires were a climate catastrophe: 2015 Indonesian haze emissions outstripped the entire US economy’s emissions for 38 out of 56 days in a row.

Indonesia is now the world’s largest producer of palm oil, which is rapidly becoming a go-to source of biofuel in Asia, used to generate petrol for running automobiles and machinery. It is one of Southeast Asia’s biggest exports, supplying this essential commodity to the United States, Europe, and the region’s economic giants, China and India. The majority of consumers in countries that import the commodity may not even be aware of the ubiquity of palm oil as a household item. It is found in half of what the average American shopper takes home from the supermarket, from cookies to lipstick to cleaning fluids—like in the popular brand Palmolive—to cooking oil used to fry doughnuts and other foods.

Forest and peatland fires, especially in Indonesia, have continued to reach alarming levels, despite policies implemented by Indonesian President Joko Widodo in 2015 aimed at addressing deforestation and poor peatland management. While Indonesia and Malaysia have banned the use of fire, agribusiness producers face few consequences as a result of ignoring these laws. Corruption, weak law enforcement, unequal access to justice for impacted communities, political finger pointing between Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia, and a lack of transparency surrounding the supply chain in the plantation sector also lead to there being a predictable and deadly fire and haze crisis every year. The decades-old practice of illegal land grabbing means that indigenous communities continue to fight the encroachment of industries, including the palm oil industry, on their customary lands. There is concern that continued exposure to smog could put indigenous populations, who often have limited access to health services such as COVID-19 testing, and live in communities where infections can spread rapidly, particularly at risk. Now, reallocation of disaster preparedness funds for the COVID-19 pandemic also may result in diminished resources being put toward controlling forest fires and haze.

The exploitation of the rainforests to grow palm oil and other agricultural crops is a major economic driver in the region. Indonesia has already announced plans to clear over two million acres of peatland in Borneo to implement a mega ‘rice plan’. The government of Indonesia is aggressively driving demand for domestic palm oil biodiesel by currently mandating a state biodiesel blend of 30 percent palm oil, which it plans to increase to 100 percent over the next few years. To this end, it is subsidizing palm oil biodiesel producers, and in July 2020, provided $195 million in subsidies to the industry as part of the COVID economic recovery plan. What’s more, there is no requirement that companies receiving the subsidies adhere to environmental practices nor even to the state’s own no burning law. In fact, one company that is heavily subsidized by the government for palm oil biodiesel production is Tunas Baru Lampung Tbk, which, according to a recent analysis, had the second most fires on its plantation areas of any palm oil company in 2019.

Even in the midst of the pandemic, the Indonesian government is intent on passing a controversial omnibus law that gives sweeping powers to the executive branch, strips labor protections, and weakens environmental safeguards and review processes in the name of economic growth. The draft bill would reduce penalties for environmental offences and allow the central government to issue forest use permits, making it even harder for indigenous and frontline communities to monitor and influence decision-making around forest use. Notably, the bill would strip companies of legal liability for fires on their plantation areas, removing a key deterrent to burning and disincentivizing firefighting and prevention.

Like the fires that have devastated Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, the blazes in Indonesia have far-reaching, transboundary, and even global consequences. The fires destroy irreplaceable ecological resources and biodiversity, as well as cause tens and thousands of unnecessary deaths and respiratory illnesses, a figure that is likely to balloon due to COVID-19. Unless the government and industrial agri-businesses are forced to change course, the Indonesian fires will continue to be another manufactured disaster—tragic in both its scale and its evitability.

Etelle Higonnet is a senior campaign director at Mighty Earth and Erika Dailey is senior officer for research and publications at the Open Society Justice Initiative. This piece has been cross-posted under a creative commons license from the Open Society Justice Initiative.



Photo: Members of the indigenous community live at the riverbanks in Kapuas river where the air is engulfed with thick haze at Sei Ahass village, Kapuas district, Central Kalimantan province on Borneo island, Indonesia. 2015 © Ardiles Rante / Greenpeace

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

Big Meat Companies Are Making the Pandemic Worse

As the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc with the meat supply chain, Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz released the following statement:

"In the midst of a global crisis, the meat industry continues to pack people and animals into factories, fueling the spread of the current pandemic and making the next one more likely. The industry’s dangerous behavior and poor planning have led to the slow suffocation of millions of animals, even as unsafe working conditions force workers to risk sickness and death to keep their jobs.

"The industry’s destruction is also playing out on an international scale. The big meat companies like JBS and Cargill have driven the bulldozing and burning of the Amazon and other forests in South America to expand the area dedicated to raising cattle and planting crops to feed them. In addition to driving mass extinctions and accelerating climate change, this deforestation risks bringing humans into contact with dangerous new diseases. These tropical forest fires also overload health care facilities with new cases of respiratory problems and cause hundreds of thousands of premature deaths under normal circumstances. Allowing these practices to continue only further endangers people whose lungs have been damaged by the coronavirus.

"Supermarkets like Costco, Ahold Delhaize, Casino, and more must end their complicity and stop sending hundreds of millions of dollars in supplier contracts to companies like Cargill and JBS that are acting in such a cruel and reckless manner."

G20 Must Protect People and Planet During Coronavirus Pandemic

Mighty Earth signed on to a landmark Open Letter, coordinated by the Club of Rome secretariat and the Minister for the Environment of Costa Rica, calling on G20 leaders to ensure the current coronavirus global crisis spurs countries to champion recovery solutions that not only rebuild lives and spur economic activity in the immediate wake of the crisis, but also "accelerate the transition to resilient, low-carbon economies and nature-rich societies."

The Club of Rome is a high-level global hub of academics, politicians and environmental leaders who are setting the global climate emergency agenda and are a key driver behind World Earth Day.

We're happy to report on the wonderful impact of the Open Letter that our CEO Glenn Hurowitz co-signed along with thousands of thought leaders, scientists, and world leaders, to urge the G20 for a green and just recovery from the coronavirus crisis. The letter helped mobilize major pressure for the G20 to explicitly commit to an environmentally sustainable and inclusive recovery for our citizens and planet. We are happy that we were able to do our small part in this big collective achievement – a testament to the solidarity of civil society.

One result of this letter was a marked improvement in the response of the G20. See here the final G20 Communiqué and Annexes from the G20 Finance Ministers meeting which took place virtually from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia on 15 April. Whilst this G20 commitment could be better, with stronger language in the core text, nonetheless the final agreed language is significantly more robust than the G20 Leaders Declaration adopted last month. Moreover, it is crucial to take into account that has come from Finance Ministers, and was endorsed by all G20 countries, including the USA, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Germany and South Africa, among many others.

Most crucially, the G20 stated:

  • We reiterate our commitment to use all available policy tools to safeguard against downside risks, ensure a swift recovery and achieve strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth
  • We commit to support an environmentally sustainable and inclusive recovery. We will be guided by a sense of shared, long-term responsibility for our planet and citizens

Mighty Earth hopes that this G20 Communiqué will shape upcoming coronavirus recovery related EU Council meetings, as well as the G20 meetings in July and in November at Heads of States level.

Coronavirus is presenting our societies with tremendous challenges and suffering. The response to this pandemic can deepen suffering by exacerbating climate chaos and high-carbon harm with coronavirus profiteering, or it can help nations and industries fight two battles at once: coronavirus and climate change. With global stimulus packages topping a staggering $14 trillion, we are on the cusp of major decisions that will shape nations, economies and the biosphere for decades to come. Let us be our best selves in this critical hour of need.

Video: Protecting Forests to Prevent Pandemics

Deforestation has been linked to 30 percent of outbreaks of new and emerging diseases like Zika, Ebola, and COVID-19, in addition to being a major contributor to climate change and air quality problems that exacerbate the spread and impact of these diseases on human health.

Many of the world’s largest corporates, financiers, and regulatory agencies have declared that 2020 will be the key year for global action to stop deforestation. As the world scrambles to respond to the impacts of COVID-19, it is more critical than ever that efforts to protect forests continue as part of the global response.

Mighty Earth's webinar brought together experts who spoke to the link between deforestation and pandemics, the value of nature-based solutions in preventing future pandemics, and the role of private sector and regulatory agencies in driving ambitious action to protect forests in 2020. Watch the full video:

EU Coronavirus Bailout Must Deliver a Just and Sustainable Recovery

Mighty Earth has joined calls to ensure the European Union’s coronavirus financial bail out and national Sustainable Recovery Plans deliver a greener and more socially and environmentally just recovery.

We’ve joined other groups in the Green10 network – including Bankwatch and Friends of the Earth – who are calling on political leaders to ensure the EU’s potentially €1.5 trillion bail out and Sustainable Recovery Plans direct all public stimulus investments towards accelerating the transition to a just, resilient and sustainable economy, and boost the European Green Deal to deliver even more.

This means:

  • Stepping up policy action against climate change and biodiversity loss at EU, national and international levels and strengthening strategies in the European Green Deal
  • Making bail out support to EU companies in high-carbon and potentially polluting sectors – such as intensive agriculture – conditional on their alignment with climate and environmental goals
  • Ensuring no bail outs for polluting and unviable industries that have no future in tomorrow’s economy
  • State aid, loans, subsidies and other direct and indirect bail out support to companies must come with strict climate and environmental conditions, monitored and enforced by the EU
  • Ensuring the European Investment Bank (EIB) brings its lending policies in line with the European Green Deal.

The open letter supports the many recent appeals for a green recovery that have blossomed across Europe – by 13 EU governments, MEPs, the Club of Rome, scientists, CSOs, 200 representatives from business and politics, green energy companies, and many more. So far signed by over 50 CSOs, see the Green10 joint appeal here.

Mighty Earth COVID-19 response for Cocoa Farmers

Mighty Earth and the other NGO members of the VOICE Network – a civil society coalition fighting for sustainable chocolate worldwide – are deeply concerned about the effects of COVID-19 on cocoa farming households, a group already in a vulnerable position.

Our immediate concern is for the health and wellbeing of members of cocoa farming households. We are equally concerned about the direct economic impact this global crisis will have on families, who live already well below a living income. Most cocoa farmers earn under $1 per day, which is a major reason why millions of children slave away in cocoa as child labor. This dire poverty also feeds into the catastrophic deforestation that characterizes most cocoa farming, making chocolate a major global driver of forest destruction, especially in West Africa.

During the 2016 price crash, the cocoa and chocolate industry made strong profits while farmers and producing governments lost billions of dollars. Cocoa and chocolate companies did virtually nothing then to support their farmers. This cannot happen again.

Today, we release a Call to Action to the cocoa and chocolate industry to do everything within their means to help protect their cocoa farmers. We offer four key emergency considerations from the chocolate and cocoa industry which play into their role and responsibility, and mirrors responses we see in their employee care in consuming countries.

  1. Cease all non-essential farm visits
  2. Support communication to farming communities on health messaging
  3. Use existing supply chain mechanisms for provisioning farming communities
  4. Set up an emergency relief fund commensurate to the challenge

Our full paper can be read here.

Mighty Earth calls on the United States, the European Union, and Switzerland, to ensure that any bailout or stimulus package that covers chocolate companies, must hold these corporations to account. Any portion of a bailout must be conditional on traceability, transparency, protecting vulnerable farmers from Covid19, paying farmers a living wage, ending child labor, ending the use of hazardous pesticides which poison kids and other vulnerable people and puts them more at risk of respiratory ailments for Covid19. We ask that bailouts deny “Covid profiteering,” insist on deforestation-free and earth-friendly cocoa, and enshrine the principle of “OneHealth” in recognition that the health of the planet and people are intertwined.

Webinar | Protect Forests to Prevent Pandemics

Webinar | Protect Forests to Prevent Pandemics

Deforestation has been linked to 30 percent of outbreaks of new and emerging diseases like Zika, Ebola, and COVID-19, in addition to being major contributors to climate change and air quality problems that exacerbate the spread and impact of these diseases on human health. Many of the world’s largest corporates, financiers, and regulatory agencies have declared that 2020 will be the key year for global action to stop deforestation. As the world scrambles to respond to the impacts of COVID-19 it is more critical than ever that efforts to protect forests continue as part of the global response.

This webinar (April 2020) brought together experts who spoke to the link between deforestation and pandemics, the value of nature-based solutions in preventing future pandemics, and the role of private sector and regulatory agencies in driving ambitious action to protect forests.


Glenn Hurowitz
CEO @Mighty Earth
Glenn is an accomplished environmental campaigner whose efforts have helped re-shape the industries driving ecological destruction. Working with allies, he successfully secured strict No Deforestation policies from the world’s largest agribusinesses, including companies that cover 90 percent of the global palm oil trade and, more recently, two of the world’s largest soy traders.

Hannah Mowat
Campaigns Coordinator @Fern
Hannah Mowat has over 10 years experience campaigning for stronger energy, climate and forest policies in European NGOs, and has published numerous reports and articles on finance and land rights, carbon trading, biodiversity offsetting, LULUCF and negative emissions. She previously worked at Friends of the Earth and the Munden Project, and lives in Paris.

Amy Vittor
Assistant Professor of Medicine @University of Florida
Dr. Amy Vittor is an Assistant Professor at University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute where she studies the interface between vector-borne disease and land use. At present, she works on South American eastern equine encephalitis and land use in the Darien region of Panama, and attends on the infectious diseases service at Shands hospital where she currently sees COVID-19 patients. Amy conducted her doctorate on malaria and deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon, showing that a strong positive association exists between the abundance of malaria vectors and anthropogenic land use change.

For a campaigner against deforestation, almost dying of COVID-19 was ironic

Mighty Earth's Etelle Higonnet has worked for years to reform the palm oil, rubber, soy, and cocoa industries, which are heavily involved in tropical deforestation. Pandemics like COVID-19 are linked with deforestation and the wildlife trade, and she’s married to a public health expert, so it was ironic that she nearly lost her life to the disease last month.

Higonnet argues that ending the wildlife trafficking which seems to have caused the pandemic is of no use if animals’ forest homes continue to be bulldozed, sending them into contact with people. She reflected on her experience with COVID-19 and the relation to her work in a commentary for Mongabay:

The more we encroach into forests, the likelier it is we humans will come into contact with heretofore undisturbed animals, whose pathogens will have the exciting opportunity to penetrate new victims – us. And when we raze forests, their animal inhabitants stumble into our human strongholds. I’ve witnessed it firsthand in my work: disoriented, lost, homeless creatures seeking a last desperate toehold even in areas where humans abound.

Read the full piece in Mongabay. This piece is also available in Bahasa, Spanish, and Chinese.

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.

New Report Identifies "Coronavirus Climate Profiteers"

Mighty Earth names top polluters exploiting the pandemic to weaken environmental protections and grab subsidies and identifies “climate heroes” doing the right thing in time of crisis

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, global environmental campaign organization Mighty Earth released a new report shaming five “coronavirus climate profiteers” – identifying the corporations and industries seeking to take advantage of a global crisis.

“A lot of people are understandably furious about small-time coronavirus grifters, like the guy hoarding Purell in his garage,” Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz writes in the report. “Sure, that’s bad, but it’s nothing compared to the cynicism and public health hazards created by leading coronavirus profiteers and their enablers.”

The meat and biofuels industries, carmakers, airlines, illegal loggers in Indonesia, and the fossil fuel industry are all named as coronavirus profiteers. Their efforts to avoid environmental protections and attempts to siphon no-strings-attached bailout funds from more worthy recipients have already earned them the opprobrium of environmental activists.

“These bad actors are hoping the world won’t notice what they’re up to,” said Hurowitz. “They’re counting on the shadow of the coronavirus to cloak their misdeeds. We thought a bit of sunlight was in order.”

The report also praised some companies and individuals for continuing to prioritize climate action even in a time of great challenges. Auto companies Volkswagen and BMW have reiterated their support for 2020 climate standards. The European Commission is moving forward with plans that could strengthen the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, and ministers in several European countries are calling for green development as a response to the economic impact of the virus. The report also identifies some palm oil traders who have moved quickly to suspend a rogue operator responsible for deforestation.

“While these organizations may not always be climate champions – many of them still have policies and practice we strongly disagree with – it was important to give credit where credit is do,” said Hurowitz.

paper published by The Royal Society identified habitat loss and wildlife exploitation as causes of animal-to-human virus transmission -- and as likely culprits of future pandemics.

“The companies and industries identified in this report are driving environmental destruction while taking advantage of a crisis that was caused by just this sort of reckless disregard for the natural world,” Hurowitz said. “We cannot let them get away with it. As we build a new economy for a post-pandemic world, we must prioritize the policies that will also help us confront the twin crises of climate change and mass extinction.”

The full report is available here.

Photo Caption: Donald Trump meets with General Motors CEO Mary Barra Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne in the White House. The two companies’ lobbyists have used the cover of the Coronavirus pandemic to back Trump’s gutting of fuel efficiency standards, President Obama’s single biggest climate achievement. (Photo by Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images)

Mighty Earth and the Coronavirus – A Letter from CEO Glenn Hurowitz

Dear friends,

I hope you and your loved ones are well. I wanted to write to provide an update as we navigate the Coronavirus pandemic at the same time that we continue our mission to secure a living and healthy planet for Nature and people.

First, we have taken and are taking a number of measures to protect our staff and partners. We closed our Washington D.C. office on March 11; and it will remain closed until it is safe for people to return to work. Staff travel and in-person events have been cancelled, postponed, or moved online. We are staying focused on the health and well-being of our team and community.

I’ve been really impressed with how our team and partners are figuring out how to continue their critical work, but of course, many people are facing family, logistical and other limits. We are grateful for the whole community’s understanding.

While we’ve had to shuffle plans, we also feel renewed urgency on our work:

  • We must prevent future pandemics. The kinds of destructive practices we seek to end – agribusiness giants clearing forests, poachers and black markets facilitating the illegal wildlife trade – continue to bring people into contact with wild animals and, sometimes, new diseases. Coronavirus itself may have come from a bat via a pangolin, a highly endangered species. Before that, Ebola and AIDS most likely originated in consumption of bushmeat that becomes more common with the displacement of both wildlife and people when rainforests are razed for plantations.  In our discussions with companies and governments, we are emphasizing that while everyone is dealing with the immediacy of this crisis, we must use the attention on this issue to address the root causes – and that means that ending deforestation cannot slip from focus. Food demand has surged in this crisis: Companies must act now to end all links to deforestation so they’re not fueling the next pandemic. And governments must dramatically increase funding for conservation. I will say that while there are exceptions, we’ve been impressed that many big companies are continuing to take serious action on deforestation, climate and sustainability during this crisis, and we’re seeing some major steps forward.
  • The Climate Crisis is Still Here. America and the world need to address this pandemic and all of its impacts in many ways, including by providing direct support to communities and people in need, and providing access to health care. While the Senate stimulus package achieves many of these goals, it also includes a variety of bailouts funds for corporations that could subsidize some of the worst polluters, instead of much-need financial support for local governments, communities and individuals in need. The clearest example is approximately $50 billion in giveaways and loans for airlines – even though airlines have consistently blocked real action on climate.

House Democrats had included a groundbreaking provision that would have made the aid conditional on airlines achieving carbon neutrality, but this position was abandoned in Senate negotiations. Without these conditions, we’re not learning from the success of the past: back in 2009, the auto bailout was conditioned on a dramatic increase in fuel efficiency for cars and trucks that is delivering gigaton scale climate reductions.

We want to make clear that climate voters don’t find polluter bailouts acceptable, and that our leaders shouldn’t let polluters use crises like this to lock in destructive business models. Internationally, we are working with allies to ensure other bailouts create a healthy, sustainable economy for the long term.

While most people are hunkered down, and we’re working virtually, the environmental movement cannot go into hibernation. We know that our opponents have not. The world that emerges on the far side of this pandemic will be changed – and it’s up to all of us to shape that even in this time of great challenge.

Wishing you health, solace, and hope,

Glenn Hurowitz
CEO, Mighty Earth