Charles hails drive to protect rainforests but warns of 'enormity of challenge'

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An ambitious commitment by leading companies to help safeguard Brazil's tropical savannah has been hailed by the Prince of Wales.

Charles joined senior executives from firms like Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Unilever and McDonald's as they announced they had signed a letter of support for the Cerrado Manifesto - aimed at tackling soy bean-driven deforestation of the Cerrado area of Brazil.

But, despite the development, the Prince sounded a cautious note and stated that those concerned about deforestation were not winning.

The Prince of Wales
Charles was optimistic despite the 'enormity' of the challenge (Frank Augstein/PA)

Speaking at London's Lancaster House, he said: "At least 10 million hectares of forest continue to be lost every year, with new fronts of deforestation opening all the time.

"Recent science suggests, as a result of loss and degradation, forests now act as a carbon source, rather than a carbon sink."

Charles, who has been campaigning for a number of years to end the destruction of the world's rainforests, concluded with the words: "Ladies and gentlemen, despite the enormity of the challenge, I remain convinced that, by working together, it is still possible to take the decisive action necessary to save the world's remaining forests."

Covering an area equivalent to the size of England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined, the Cerrado is a biodiversity hotspot and home to more than 800 bird species and 11,000 plant species and essential for water and rainfall across Brazil.

The Prince of Wales meets Norway's environment minister Vidar Helgesen and Gabon president Ali Bongo Ondimba
The Prince of Wales meets Norway's environment minister Vidar Helgesen and Gabon president Ali Bongo Ondimba (Frank Augstein/PA)

Marks & Spencer chief executive Steve Rowe, speaking in his role as a director of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), announced during the meeting of Government ministers, conservation and wildlife organisations and businesses, that 23 leading companies had signed the letter of support for the Cerrado Manifsto.

He told delegates: "Building a more sustainable economy is something that will unite us all, whether tackling food waste, forced labour or deforestation.

"In 2010 the CGF board agreed a resolution committing us to zero net deforestation by 2020 for four key commodities that we use extensively - palm oil, beef, paper and pulp and soy."

He said soy remained "a major challenge", adding: "It's used widely in the food industry, particularly to make animal feeds, and used in the production of meat and dairy products."

Mr Rowe acknowledged the efforts of the Brazilian government to protect the Amazon rainforest but said that unfortunately soy bean production was being displaced to Cerrado.

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The meeting, hosted by the Prince's International Sustainability Unit and Unilever, was held as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) released a report highlighting the UK's "forest footprint" - as the result of the import of goods such as palm oil, cocoa, timber, rubber, paper, beef and leather.