Is the world keeping its promise to protect forests?
This article first appeared on the World Economic Forum Agenda, in collaboration with Thomson Reuters Foundation trust.org.
The world is making sluggish progress towards meeting an international goal of at least halving natural forest loss by 2020 and ending it by 2030, researchers have warned.
The commitment, made in the New York Declaration on Forests in September 2014 at a U.N. summit on tackling climate change, is endorsed by around 180 governments, companies, indigenous peoples’ organisations, green groups and think tanks.
“Battling deforestation is a massive challenge that can’t be turned around overnight,” said Charlotte Streck, co-founder and director of Climate Focus, an advisory company.
Two new reports released this week by Climate Focus, the Global Canopy Programme and other forest research groups assessed how governments and companies are doing on reducing deforestation, ahead of U.N. climate talks starting on Nov. 30 that are due to agree a new global deal to curb climate change.
Keeping forests standing is seen as a key way of reducing the greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming.
When forests are degraded or destroyed, the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere, and deforestation accounts for 10 to 15 percent of carbon emissions worldwide.
Streck said the Paris climate summit was an opportunity to signal clear action on halting deforestation. “Progress on forests at the meeting will serve as a bellwether for the fate of the (New York) declaration – and forests,” she said.
Here are some facts and figures from the reports:
- The annual loss of natural forest area appears to be declining, if forest regrowth is counted as offsetting forest clearing.
- But there is no sign that the annual rate at which natural forests are being cleared or harvested is slowing.
- Researchers assessed 122 of the roughly 170 climate change action plans submitted to the United Nations as the basis for a new global climate deal, and found only 40 included specific actions on land use and forests in their emissions reduction target, while 18 excluded land use/forests from their target.
- The New York declaration includes a target of restoring 150 million hectares of degraded land by 2020 and an additional 200 million hectares by 2030. Since 2011, signatories to the Bonn Challenge, a global scheme, have pledged to reforest close to 63 million hectares, 42 percent of the 2020 target.
- Since 2009, at least 300 corporations – from consumer goods firms like Unilever and Dunkin’ Donuts to suppliers like Asia Pulp & Paper – have made policy commitments to reduce or eliminate deforestation in their supply chains. About a third of those pledges were made since the start of 2014.
- Commercial agriculture drives at least two thirds of tropical deforestation, yet only 8 percent of all 250 powerful companies assessed in the 2015 Forest 500 ranking have zero deforestation policies in place that apply across commodities which threaten forests – palm oil, soya, beef, leather, paper and timber.
- Sustainable forest products are growing their market share. Half of forests providing pulp for paper are now certified, and certified sustainable palm oil has grown to 18 percent of the global market. But only 2 percent of soy is certified as sustainable, and there is no data on beef.
- In the financial community, less than 1 percent of investors have adopted zero deforestation commitments that apply to all their investments or lending in agricultural supply chains.
- Of the governments assessed in the Forest 500, none had significantly strengthened their national or state-level deforestation policies since 2014.
- The adoption of clean cooking stoves, which reduce or replace the use of firewood, is accelerating rapidly, almost doubling every year from 2008 to 2013.
Sources: 2015 Forest 500 from the Global Canopy Programme and Progress on the New York Declaration on Forests: An Assessment Framework and Initial Report from Climate Focus