California moves to disentangle its spending from global deforestation

Recent research from Friends of the Earth concluded that up to 25 percent of California’s public purchasing may be linked to deforestation in sensitive tropical and boreal forests.

SACRAMENTO, CA – The California State Assembly yesterday voted to pass the California Deforestation-Free Procurement Act (AB 416). The passage of the bill through the first legislative chamber coincides with recent research showing that up to a quarter of state contracts may be contributing to deforestation and forest degradation in other countries. Assembly Member Ash Kalra, the author of AB 416, said “I am grateful to my colleagues for once again affirming California’s leadership on addressing climate change, protecting biodiversity, and valuing indigenous rights. AB 416, the California Deforestation-Free Procurement Act, ensures that state contracts are not playing part in the commodity-driven deforestation crisis in either the boreal or tropics.”

A study based on 2019 data* reveals that up to $600 million of California’s state spending could be linked to deforestation in sensitive tropical and boreal forests across the world. The bill presents a significant opportunity for the state of California to stop its spending from contributing to deforestation abroad. The bill would be the first law of its kind in the United States, and is backed by virtually every environmental group in the U.S. Last week, it received strong support from a consortium of investors representing $1.6 trillion in assets under management.

As the world’s fifth largest economy California wields a lot of power,” said Jeff Conant, Senior International Forests Program Manager at Friends of the Earth. “Investors are increasingly taking responsibility for their role in financing forest destruction, and we’re very pleased to see California politicians taking similar leadership.”

The main driver of deforestation and forest degradation in both tropical and boreal forests is industrial-scale production of “forest-risk commodities,” including palm oil, soy, cattle, timber, paper/pulp and rubber. Products containing these commodities are widely consumed—making virtually all consumers inadvertent contributors to the destruction and degradation of tropical and boreal forests. According to recently analyzed data, the largest categories of forest-risk commodities in California’s public purchasing are products that contain palm oil (8% of state purchasing), soy (6% of state purchasing) or timber (5% of state purchasing).

AB 416 would require state procurement contracts that involve forest-risk commodities to certify that their operations do not involve tropical or boreal deforestation or primary forest degradation. New York has advanced a parallel bill (S5921) that is part of a trend towards greater regulation of deforestation in public procurement, as reflected in similar initiatives in France, Norway, the EU and other jurisdictions. Both state bills are modelled in part after the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, which requires the state to ban public purchasing of products linked to slavery and human trafficking.

The bill promises protection for forests that are essential to storing carbon and providing habitat and home for threatened species, as well as protecting at-risk Indigenous peoples. While it is not explicitly linked to California’s climate goals, the legislation would contribute to the state’s efforts to reduce its climate footprint, while setting an important precedent for states to leverage their purchasing power to end deforestation around the world.

Having passed through the State Assembly, the bill now moves to the Senate for debate for the remaining 2021 legislative session.

California’s AB 416 is authored by Assembly Member Ash Kalra, and co-authored by Assembly Members Bloom, Eduardo Garcia, Lee, Friedman, Muratsuchi, and Rivas and Senators Allen, Stern and Laird. AB416 is co-sponsored by Friends of the Earth, NRDC, and Social Compassion in Legislation.A FAQ on California’s relationship to deforestation and the bill can be found here.

*Note: the study has not been made public, but the data can be shared upon request.

Contact: Kerry Skiff, [email protected], 270-300-4980

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