Cop26: Leaders promise to halt deforestation by 2030, but campaigners say action needed now

More than 100 leaders representing 85 per cent of planet’s forests make pledge

Adam Forrest
Tuesday 02 November 2021 12:47
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World leaders lay out goals for COP26 climate summit
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More than 100 national leaders will make a promise during the Cop26 summit to stop deforestation and begin restoring the world’s forests by 2030, the UK government has said.

Leaders representing countries that are home to 85 per cent of the planet’s forests – including Brazil – will commit to “halt and reverse” deforestation by the end of the decade at an event convened by Boris Johnson in Glasgow on Tuesday.

Downing Street said the pledge was backed by $12bn (£8.75bn) of public funding from governments aimed at restoring ripped-up land, with a further $7.2bn (£5.3bn) coming from private investment.

It includes $2bn (£1.47bn) from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for land restoration in Africa, double what he previously committed just a day earlier at an event with the Prince of Wales.

The commitment has been largely welcomed by climate campaigners – but they warned that change was needed immediately to stop new logging from taking place, as well as delivering on the restoration of forests.

Greenpeace was critical of the lack of a binding timetable for the measures – claiming the announcement amounted to a “green light for another decade of forest destruction”.

Carolina Pasquali, executive director at Greenpeace Brazil, said: “There’s a very good reason [president] Jair Bolsonaro felt comfortable signing on to this new deal. It allows another decade of forest destruction and isn’t binding.”

She added: “Meanwhile the Amazon is already on the brink and can’t survive years more deforestation. Indigenous peoples are calling for 80 per cent of the Amazon to be protected by 2025, and they’re right, that’s what’s needed. The climate and the natural world can’t afford this deal.”

The land covered by the agreement includes the tropical rainforests of Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as well as the northern forests of Canada and Russia – an area of more than 13 million square miles.

But campaigners are concerned that the new money announced at Cop26 is not conditional on banning new logging permits, after a moratorium on new permits was lifted by the DRC government in July.

The Independent revealed last week that the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) – aimed at protecting the Congo Basin rainforest – avoided taking any position on the country’s decision to lift a 20-year-old ban.

A draft letter of intent to the DRC government makes no mention of the logging rights issue – despite warnings from environmentalists that allowing more logging in the basin is incompatible with tackling the climate crisis.

Responding to the Cop26 pledge, a spokesperson for Greenpeace Africa said: “With so much at stake, any new money should only be offered to the DRC government if the ban on new logging concessions is restored.”

The UK is committing £1.5bn over five years to support the forests pledge, part of its previously committed international climate finance budget – including £350m for tropical forests in Indonesia and £200m for the Leaf Coalition.

The prime minister said the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C cannot be achieved without protecting the natural environment and ending the “devastating” loss of forests which the “lungs of our planet”.

“Let’s end this great chainsaw massacre by making conservation do what we know it can do, and that is deliver long-term sustainable jobs and growth as well,” Mr Johnson told the summit in Glasgow.

Also speaking in Glasgow on Tuesday, Prince Charles called for the “re-engineering” of the world’s financial and economic system to disincentivise deforestation and reward countries for the pursuit of a “forest-positive economy”.

Simon Lewis, professor of global change science at University College London (UCL), said it was particularly welcome that indigenous peoples were being acknowledged as key protectors of forests in the $12bn commitment.

But the professor warned that “careful monitoring” of the delivery of initiatives aimed at tackling deforestation would be needed to make sure the 2030 pledge was fulfilled.

“The real challenge is not in making the announcements, but in delivering synergistic and interlocking policies and actions that really do drive down deforestation globally,” said Prof Lewis.

Paul de Zylva, senior sustainability analyst at Friends of the Earth, said the test of the declaration will be whether it cuts the funding of ecologically damaging development.

“Banks and governments purporting to protect the world’s forests will be judged by whether they stop financing harmful development projects, as well as putting a stop to rearing cattle and crops like soy, which have driven the dreadful demise of forests, often with human rights abuses,” he said.

John Lotspeich, executive director of the Trillion Trees campaign, said: “It’s fantastic that world leaders have finally stepped up to take action against the devastating effects of deforestation. But at the same time, if forests continue to disappear at the current catastrophic rate, all this work will be to no avail.”

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