Which forests could be protected by corporate zero deforestation commitments? A spatial assessment

Floris Leijten, Sarah Sim, Henry King, Peter H. Verburg

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The production of palm oil, soy, beef and timber are key drivers of global forest loss. For this reason, over 470 companies involved in the production, processing or distribution of these commodities have issued commitments to eliminate or reduce deforestation from their supply chains. However, the effectiveness of these commitments is uncertain since there is considerable variation in ambition and scope and there are no globally agreed definitions of what constitutes a forest. Many commitments identify high conservation value forests (HCVFs), high carbon stock forests (HCSFs) and forests on tropical peatland as priority areas for conservation. This allows for mapping of the global extent of forest areas classified as such, to achieve an assessment of the area that may be at reduced risk of development if companies comply with their zero deforestation commitments. Depending on the criteria used, the results indicate that between 34% and 74% of global forests qualify as either HCVF, HCSF or forests on tropical peatland. However, we found that the total extent of these forest areas varies widely depending on the choice of forest map. Within forests which were not designated as HCVF, HCSF or forests on tropical peatland, there is substantial overlap with areas that are highly suitable for agricultural development. Since these areas are unlikely to be protected by zero-deforestation commitments, they may be subject to increased pressure resulting from leakage of areas designated as HCVF, HCSF and tropical peatland forests. Considerable uncertainties around future outcomes remain, since only a proportion of the global market is currently covered by corporate commitments. Further work is needed to map the synergies between corporate commitments and government policies on land use. In addition, standardized criteria for delineating forests covered by the commitments are recommended.

Original languageEnglish
Article number064021
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number6
Early online date27 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • commodities
  • corporate commitment
  • high carbon stock forests
  • high conservation value forests
  • tropical peatlands
  • zero deforestation commitments


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