COP26 – Will the Global Pledges to Halt Deforestation Save the Forests?

The first few days of COP26 in Glasgow have seen world leaders announcing a raft of new pledges and commitments, including several focused specifically on reducing deforestation, securing Indigenous Peoples and Local Community forest tenure rights, and scaling up investments in nature-based climate solutions such as restoration and sustainable forestry. Will these pledges and commitments be effective in realizing significant changes to forest conservation and management?

COP26 Pledges on Forests

The headline pledge on forests is the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use (2nd November), which represents a commitment by over 120 countries to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation. The signatories include those countries with the largest forest area in 2021, including Russia, Brazil, Canada, the US, China, Australia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, and Peru. The Declaration on Forests and Land Use recognizes the critical role of the forests in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, balancing greenhouse gas emissions through carbon sinks, providing ecosystem services, and supporting adaptation to climate change. It also reaffirms the commitment by the signatories to sustainable land use as well as forest conservation, protection, restoration, and sustainable forest management as per relevant UN conventions.

Critically, the Declaration on Forests and Land Use has been strongly supported by global funding pledges to provide the financial resources to realize the goals. The funding pledges represent a range of programs backed by national and state governments, public sector development agencies, major private-sector corporations and non-government organizations. CEOs from more than 30 financial institutions will commit to eliminating investment in activities linked to deforestation.

The Glasgow Declaration on Forests and Land Use aims to halt deforestation by 2030. Photo: Indufor

These funding pledges include the Global Forests Finance Pledge – a pledge made by 12 of the largest developed countries and economic blocks (including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America), with announced intentions to provide public funds worth USD12 billion for forest-related climate finance until 2025. The allocation of funding is focused on helping to address the systemic drivers of forest loss, and enabling conservation, sustainable management, and restoration of forests in overseas development aid (ODA) eligible countries. The Pledge also states that there will be close cooperation with the private sector for leveraging considerable additional funds from private sources.

Building on the Pledge, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen went on to announce one billion Euros as the EU contribution to the Pledge, targeted to help partner countries to protect, restore and sustainably manage forests worldwide and deliver on the Paris Agreement in 2015. The UK has announced it will commit £1.5 billion under the Pledge.

Other notable funding pledges made at or leading into COP26 include:

  • The United States launched the Forest Investor Club, a network of public and private institutions that intends to scale up investments in nature-based climate solutions such as restoration, conservation, and sustainable forestry. These financial institutions and Network Partners are committed to increasing the scale and geographic scope of investment in restoration, conservation, sustainable agriculture and forestry, and green infrastructure.
  • A coalition of countries and charitable foundations announced an initial, collective pledge of USD 1.7 billion in financing to support Indigenous People’s and Local Communities’ (‘IPLC’) forest tenure rights over the next four years (from 2021 to 2025).
  • The LEAF Coalition (Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance), an international coalition of governments and private institutions, has mobilized USD 1 billion for countries and states committed to increasing ambition to protect tropical and sub-tropical forests and reduce deforestation.
  • Development Financial Institutions of the United Kingdom, Finland, and Norway, together with New Forests, a global investment manager focusing on sustainable landscapes, announced a collaborative effort to develop investment strategies designed to elevate the sustainable forestry sector in sub-Saharan Africa and raise up to USD 500 million over the next three to five years in doing so.

Parts of these announced commitments are directed to addressing deforestation of the Congo Basin as addressed in the COP26 Congo Basin Joint Donor Statement. At least USD 1.5 billion has been directed towards protecting the second-largest rainforest of the planet while improving the livelihoods of the local communities.

The Brazilian rainforest and the Congo Basin are two of the world’s largest tropical forest areas, where deforestation has also occurred on significant scale. Source: Hansen/UMD/Google/USGS/NASA

Implementing the Declarations

The Declaration on Forests and Land Use has raised comparisons with the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) in 2014, which likewise included ambitious targets to curb deforestation – specifically, halving the loss of natural forest by 2020, striving to end it by 2030. However, global deforestation rates did not slow between 2014 and 2020, and many NYDF endorsers (spanning countries, subnational governments, companies, indigenous groups, and NGOs) struggling to translate commitments into durable and effective implementation..

This time the hopes are substantially higher. The inclusion of Russia, Brazil and China in the signatories to the Glasgow Declaration are important as they represent three of the top five most forested countries in the world. The Amazon basin in Brazil has also seen high levels of deforestation during the recent years. However, there are criticisms worth considering when analysing the potential for implementation. Other notable country inclusions in the Glasgow Declaration include Papua New Guinea, Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Miombo woodland cleared for agriculture in Niassa Province, Mozambique. Photo: Indufor

The New York Declaration on Forests had 39 country-level endorsers, representing approximately 40% of global forest cover; while the Glasgow Declaration has over 120 country-level signatories, representing approximately 85% of global forest cover.

In addition, the Glasgow Declaration has been accompanied by an estimated USD19 billion in related funding commitments to date across a range of interrelated and mutually reinforcing programs. The funding commitments to support the New York Declaration on Forests were not as specific in their allocation to the declaration goals, and not nearly as large in their quantum and capacity to provide resources for the implementation of program objectives.

Another key driver for implementation is the increasing sense of urgency to take strong, decisive action on addressing climate change, which is expected to catalyze and underpin concerted efforts across countries and all sectors of the global economy. The Glasgow Declaration recognizes that reducing deforestation, and scaling up investments in nature-based solutions, have a vital role to play and need to be supported through international and national policy initiatives.

On this basis, there are strong reasons to hope for considerably more progress on the Glasgow Declaration goals and objectives. Key challenges include ensuring that the momentum continues beyond COP26 and overcoming the slow progress on reducing deforestation and forest loss over the past decade. Critical features of effective implementation will include strong national policy support across relevant sectors, collaboration across countries on critically needed financing and technical assistance, and direct financing to local communities that live in and depend on critical ecosystems.

Indufor fully supports the objectives of the Glasgow Declaration, and more broadly, the range of pledges and commitments focused on reducing deforestation and scaling up investments in nature-based climate solutions such as landscape restoration and sustainable forest management, particularly in partnership with Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Indufor has extensive policy and management expertise in relation to forests and land use and addressing opportunities and challenges presented by climate change. Our global team of staff look forward to supporting the international community in addressing the practical application of these global and national initiatives.

Indufor is a global leader in Natural Resources Management, Investment Advisory, and Strategic Industrial Development consulting. We support our customers to compete and sustainably grow in international markets. Indufor has offices in Finland, New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and China. We have over 43 years of experience in more than 100 countries. Our services support our clients to make the world more sustainable and greener.

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