Responsibility Chains Initiative: cleaning up forest commodity chains through international cooperation

There is no global treaty for forests. How do we cooperate internationally to protect forests and stop the widespread environmental destruction, human rights abuses and labor violations associated with the predatory use of forest resources? Plataforma CIPÓ and the Climate Governance Commission propose Responsibility Chains as a multi-stakeholder governance model for spreading accountability for cleaning up forest commodity chains:

The problem

According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, the world is not on track to meet the Paris Agreement 1.5 degree goal. The window of opportunity to prevent catastrophic impacts is closing, rapidly.  At the same time, environmental degradation is intensifying in many parts of the world. In forest areas, illegal deforestation and degradation has become an urgent planetary issue.  Forests help to stabilize the global climate, regulate ecosystems, play a key role in the carbon cycle, and are home to 80% of the planet’s terrestrial biodiversity.  Globally, 1.6 billion people – almost 25% of the world’s population – rely on forests for their livelihoods, many of whom are in the world’s poorest countries.  

In forest areas, climate change and environmental destruction dovetail, with disastrous consequences, not only from a climate and environmental angle, but also from a socioeconomic one.  Populations in forest areas – many of whom are from indigenous and other traditional communities – suffer loss of livelihoods and experience surging organized crime and violence, pockets of poverty, and human rights violations. Beyond those regions, deforestation has regional and global impacts, through direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions that affect weather patterns and the climate.  In the Amazon –the largest tropical forest in the world – rates of deforestation are reaching new records, primarily due to the expansion of export-driven agriculture, ranching, as well as illegal logging and gold mining.  But other forest areas, such as the Congo Basin, in Africa, and the Borneo forest, in Southeast Asia, are also the sites of deforestation and other environmental crimes on a massive scale. 

Local communities in forest areas, but also consumer groups in countries that import products driving most of this deforestation, have been vocal in pressing for more effective policies and cooperation against illegal deforestation.  Yet national policies vary immensely over time and across space, and often successes are followed by significant reversals, as in the case of Brazil. At the same time,  existing global governance solutions to deal with forest-related problems are both scattered and insufficient. The promise of a global treaty on forests put forth at the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit never became a reality, limited by strong private sector interests and the discourse of national sovereignty, especially when Global South countries are distrustful of the intentions of their Global North counterparts. And, given that negotiating global conventions takes years, if not decades, this may  not represent the shorter term, urgent solutions needed to tackle this dimension of the global climate/ecological challenge.

On the other hand, there are some promising frameworks and mechanisms in place.  The fragmented solutions include commitments such as the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, announced at COP26, and efforts around Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), through which countries are financially compensated for conserving and restoring their forests, but which are unevenly implemented and have yielded mixed results.  And, while a myriad of actors – in civil society, some states and some private sector companies – are engaged in cleaning up “supply chains,” most of these efforts are disconnected from broader frameworks at the United Nations (UN), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Economic Forum (WEF), the G-20 and other relevant global and regional governance bodies.  

In addition, the use of terms like “supply chains” reflects two disconnects. First, this term reflects the point of view of importer countries, and therefore tends to focus more narrowly on the role of  producer countries (i.e., those that have tropical forests) and other stakeholders there, such as private sector companies operating in developing countries; not enough attention is being paid to the roles of international trade, investment and consumption. Second, “supply chain” is a very business-centered concept, whereas the production, trade and consumption of forest commodities is a multi-faceted dynamic involving all sectors: state, civil society, local communities, private sector and finance.  

There is thus a need to think about global governance and forests differently. We need: 

  1. A path that is more effective and action-oriented. 
  2. To improve accountability for climate and socio environmental harm, as well as human rights violations that take place along the entire chain.  
  3. A multi-stakeholder model that allows for meaningful participation by all sectors both in producer and importer countries. 
  4. To link climate, environment, and human rights issues to trade and investments more concretely. 
  5. To better connect initiatives on commodity chains to relevant frameworks in global governance, including Agenda 2030, the Paris Agreement and Just Transition frameworks.
  6. To build on existing commitments, such as the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use.
  7. A comprehensive Global South-led effort that includes the meaningful participation of indigenous peoples and other traditional communities, as well as multi-sector stakeholders in the Global North. 

At the same time, there is an opportunity to promote more innovative and effective forest governance:

  • unprecedented awareness of and concerns about the planetary crisis, especially among youth;
  • there are new sources of leadership, not only at the local level (especially by indigenous and other marginalized groups) but also at the regional and global levels (for instance, states that can act as champions of the cause, from Costa Rica to France); 
  • innovative private sector actors are either under increasing pressure to adopt ESG and other sustainability practices, or are leading the way;
  • there is no need to completely reinvent the wheel; the components of a new governance for forests are already in place; 
  • emerging technologies hold promise for prevention and detection of deforestation and other socio-environmental impacts, provided that they are adopted by different actors, scaled up and accompanied by transparent and inclusive monitoring and accountability mechanisms.

What are Responsibility Chains?

In order to promote a more effective global governance for forests, Plataforma CIPÓ and the Climate Governance Commission (CGC) propose the creation of a Responsibility Chains Task Force. Responsibility Chains refer to far more than supply chains: rather, the interconnected sets of socio-environmental relations that link commodity producers to consumers, from the source of finance and primary production to extraction and manufacturing (when applicable), exporting and importing, all the way to final consumption.  For a period of 6 months, the Task Force – composed of representatives from CIPÓ and the CGC, as well as experts in forests and policy processes at the international level – would explore pathways to create an Action Plan for a multi-stakeholder platform that could convene relevant actors and initiatives, coordinate efforts, and produce an umbrella framework around the concept of Responsibility Chains, with the goal of zeroing illegal deforestation by 2030 (the goal set out in the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use at COP26), as well as other socio-environmental violations linked to key commodities chains. 

The concept of Responsibility Chain acknowledges the roles of multiple actors and thus demands accountability from all, and all along the chain: the state (both producers and importers), private sector, financing, and consumer groups.  Responsibility chains also entail international cooperation among producer and consumer countries, bridging North-South divides that have often stymied international cooperation around forest issues. 

They can also help overcome the “national sovereignty hurdle” by promoting  Global South leadership (and bringing on board Northern countries in collaborative partnerships) while meaningfully incorporating indigenous peoples, companies, government actors, NGOs, and international organizations.  Finally, Responsibility Chains aims to address (a) the lack of buy-in from  “spoilers,” through negative and positive incentives (such as strengthened law enforcement cooperation and certification systems), and (b) avoid greenwashing by incorporating monitoring and evaluation in ways that go  beyond loose pledges and commitments, and therefore actually drive a behavior change.

  • Why Responsibility Chains are promising:
    • they spread accountability throughout key systems and communities;
    • they entail a multi-stakeholder model;
    • they represent a politically realistic and potentially much more effective approach than currently-fragmented solutions;
    • they promote a mindset shift in which consumers also embrace their responsibility; 
    • they build on already-existing initiatives, including major 2-year project by Plataforma CIPÓ and ongoing work by the Exponential Roadmap initiative

About Plataforma CIPÓ

Plataforma CIPÓ is an independent, non-profit think tank based in Brazil, led by women and dedicated to the themes of climate, governance and peace in Latin America and the Caribbean and, more broadly, across the Global South. CIPÓ’s efforts are designed to support the work of local and national governments, international organizations, civil society entities and the private sector to develop effective responses to the challenges of the Anthropocene, including preventing environmental crimes, cleaning up commodity chains, and promoting more effective global governance around climate and environmental issues.

About the Climate Governance Commission:The Climate Governance Commission aims to fill a crucial gap in confronting the global climate emergency by developing, proposing and building partnerships that promote feasible, high impact global governance solutions for urgent and effective climate action to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C or less. Innovative new perspectives, deploying new levels of collective wisdom and ingenuity, will be required to tackle current existential planetary risks. The Commission’s Interim Report, Governing Our Climate Future (October 2021) explored a wide range of global governance innovation proposals across various thematic areas implicated in the climate challenge, including; the mobilization of new levels of global finance, facilitating necessary labor markets transitions at scale, notions of climate and security, legal accountability, and international institutional reform, among others.


Plataforma CIPÓ
Plataforma CIPÓ
Plataforma CIPÓ is an independent, women-led policy institute focusing on climate, governance, and peacebuilding in Latin America and the Caribbean and, more generally, the Global South.



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