Overnight, Australia and 123 countries signed an agreement at the Glasgow COP26 climate talks agreementPromising to end deforestation by 2030
The declaration’s signatories, which include global deforestation hotspots such as Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have committed to:
Collectively working together to stop forest loss and land degradation by 2030 and promote sustainable development.
This declaration should be embraced as it acknowledges how important forest loss and land degradation is to addressing climate change, biodiversity loss, and sustainable development.
But there have been many such declarations before, and it’s hard to feel excited about yet another one.
What really matters is changing policy domestically; if countries don’t change what they are doing at home to bring emissions from fossil fuels to zero and restore degraded lands, declarations like this are meaningless.
Want to beat climate change? Protect our natural forests
The good parts
The declaration does a great job of bringing together interrelated issues that were too often treated as separate problems.
Signatories declare that they will:
It is important to stress the interdependent and crucial roles of forests, biodiversity, and sustainable land usage in enabling the world meet its sustainable development objectives; to help achieve a balanced between anthropogenic greenhouse gases emissions and removal from sinks; to adapt and sustain other ecosystem services; and to ensure that the world meets its sustainable development goals.
Biodiversity is essential for forest conservation and sustainable land uses.
The signatories then promise to:
We reaffirm collective and individual commitments to UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Paris Agreement, Convention on Biological Diversity, UN Convention to Combat Desertification, and other relevant initiatives.
It is a significant breakthrough to see commitments under multiple UN declarations recognized in one place; forests, biodiversity, and land-use are often isolated despite the critical links in their dealings with these issues.
It is also encouraging to see the recognition that conserving forests and other terrestrial ecosystems is a priority, and signatories agreeing to accelerate their restoration (as opposed just planting new trees).
Research has shown that planting new trees is not a good climate action. It is more important to preserve existing forests. As I have shown, there is no substitute for protecting existing forests. writtenBefore
Restoring degraded forests and expanding them by 350,000,000 hectares will store the same amount of carbon as planting 900 million new trees. […]The forest ecosystems (including soil) store more carbon that the atmosphere. Their loss would trigger emissions that would exceed the remaining carbon budget for limiting global warming to less than the 2℃ above pre-industrial levels, let alone 1.5℃, threshold.
Once intact forests are gone, we can’t regain the carbon lost. It is also known as “irrecoverable carbon”. So protecting existing forests is the top priority, especially given the critical time frame we are in now to keep climate change under the 1.5℃ or even 2℃ thresholds.
The declaration also promises to promote trade.
facilitate trade and development policies, internationally and domestically, that promote sustainable development, and sustainable commodity production and consumption, that work to countries’ mutual benefit, and that do not drive deforestation and land degradation
We are now starting to address the real causes of deforestation. There has been too much emphasis on the local drivers of deforestation for a long time, which includes local communities. But research showsInternationally traded agricultural commodities like beef, soybeans, palm oil, and timber are the main drivers of deforestation.
Since 2001, the overall rate of commodity-driven forest destruction has not fallen. We can’t tackle forest loss without tackling the trade drivers behind it.
The less-so-good parts
The text’s main weakness is its inattention to the rights of Indigenous peoples or local communities.
It is mentioned the countries will “recognise” and “support” the rights of Indigenous peoples but many of these signatories do not have adequate – or, in some cases, any – legislation that actually recognises those rights.
These rights have been subject to subjugation in international agreements.
Regulative reform is needed to bring the national recognition of collective land, tenure and other rights in many countries in line with internationally recognized standards. rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The track records of some of these signatories bring into question what policy change they will be making back home to ensure this declaration isn’t just for show.
Australia is a world-famous land clearing hotspot and will need to quickly change its policies to align with the international agreements. Australia remains the only country that is a developed nation on the List of global deforestation fronts. This is because weakening land clearing legislationQueensland and New South Wales, where grazing lands are being expanded.
Australia must sign this declaration as a signatory. strengthen land clearing laws? end native forest logging, and restore degraded ecosystems – just planting new trees will not get us there. Australia has the potential of restoring large areas degraded land. Experts have suggested how this could be achieved. relatively littleInvest.
The European Union has also signed on; it has been a leader in the development of trade policies that aim to end illegal logging, and reduce deforestation. It recently reaffirmed its commitment. backpedalled on its commitmentto a program for forest governance and law enforcement within timber-producing nations that allows access the EU timber market.
If they are serious about making this declaration, the EU should reaffirm it commitment to partner countriesTo address illegal logging in trade timber
Brazil has the Bolsonaro government has been winding back previous legislation to recognise Indigenous peoples’ land rights. Deforestation rates have soaredIn the last few years. Brazil could sign this declaration by prioritising the landmark case (currently in hold). before Brazil’s Supreme CourtTo protect Indigenous land rights.
It is not enough to stop deforestation and restore forests.
This is the latest in a string of similar declarations. A pledge made in COP24 KatowiceThe New York Declaration on Forests, and Sustainable Development Goal 15Life on LandAll three include similar commitments to stop deforestation by 2030 or earlier.
This week’s COP26 declaration ends with the importance of
pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5℃, noting that the science shows further acceleration of efforts is needed if we are to collectively keep 1.5℃ within reach.
The fact is, we won’t achieve this through ending deforestation and restoring forests. These efforts are critically needed to address biodiversity loss and rural sustainability, but for limiting warming to 1.5℃, fossil fuel emissions need to come down to zero – now.