This Bill Could Breathe New Life Into Our Forests

It’s a beautiful day for California. The state has re-introduced a vital bill, AB 416, the California Deforestation-Free Procurement Act. If the bill becomes law, California will be the first state in the country to protect global forests by tying production of certain goods to ethical standards that minimize deforestation. This bill would ensure that companies selling forest-destroying commodities, like palm oil, would need to adhere to standards that protect the environment, imperiled species, and workers, in order to secure state government contracts.

Forests are the lungs of the planet. They naturally remove carbon dioxide from the air, making them one of the most cost-effective tools available to combat climate change. They’re also vital habitats for abundant wildlife. This bill can help save the lives of many critically endangered species, like orangutans, Sumatran tigers, Javan rhinos, and up to 50 million different species of invertebrates which call rainforests home. With two-thirds of our Earth’s tropical rainforests already destroyed or degraded, this law comes in the nick of time to help many species on the brink of extinction.

A red howler monkey in the Amazon jungle is seen in a tree in the early morning.

Third times the charm

The California Deforestation-Free Procurement Act is on its third try, and the third time may be the charm. The first version of the bill did not garner enough votes. Last year, the second version of the bill passed the state’s Senate with flying colors in an impressive vote of 30 to 8. However, Governor Newsom vetoed it, imparting that it needs changes before he can sign it. This year, Assemblymembers are hopeful that the bill will be signed into law.

Sustainability and forest protection are front of mind for many Americans, and California’s new procurement contract requirements would be a crucial step in reestablishing American environmental leadership. The bill’s champion, Assemblymember Ash Kalra, reminds us, “With many animal and plant species tragically on the verge of extinction due to rapid deforestation,” there is an urgent need to save global forests.

Healthy vegetation sits alongside a field scorched by fire in the Amazon rainforest in Rondonia state, Brazil. Photographer: Leonardo Carrato/Bloomberg

Supporting local management

If the law passes, companies doing procurement business with California will also have to guarantee that Indigenous people are not harmed in deforestation. Indigenous people have for centuries been custodians of the world’s forests. Increasing evidence shows that Indigenous knowledge and practices are essential to conserving forests and biodiversity. Indigenous people and traditional local communities manage more than one third of the world’s intact forests. 80 percent of all terrestrial biodiversity lives on their lands. Indigenous territories have lower deforestation rates (especially in Latin America) than other forest areas. Additionally, their forestry management practices, such as selective harvesting, reforesting, and controlling wildfires, lead to better conservation outcomes. In fact, forests managed by Indigenous people are as effective as government-protected areas—some even more so—at avoiding deforestation.

California has the fifth largest economy in the world, and this bill would ensure the state leverages its market power to reduce deforestation. It would deliver positive ripple effects across the globe and create a bold framework for safeguarding one of the world’s most powerful natural allies in the fight against climate change.