Leaders of more than 100 countries, including Brazil, China and the United States, pledged during climate talks in Glasgow on Monday to end deforestation by 2030, seeking to preserve essential forests to absorb carbon dioxide and slow the increase in global warming.
The commitment will require “further transformative measures,” the country statement said, and it was accompanied by several measures designed to help its implementation. But some advocacy groups have criticized them as lacking in bite, saying they would allow deforestation to continue.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due to announce the deforestation deal at an event Tuesday morning attended by President Biden and Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
“These great teeming ecosystems – these cathedrals of nature – are the lungs of our planet,” Mr Johnson is expected to say.
Governments have pledged $ 12 billion and private companies have pledged $ 7 billion to protect and restore forests in a variety of ways, including $ 1.7 billion for indigenous peoples. More than 30 financial institutions have also pledged to stop investing in companies responsible for deforestation. A new set of guidelines offers a path towards eliminating deforestation from supply chains.
Many policy experts called these measures an important step forward, while stressing that much more was needed.
“The financial announcements we heard in Glasgow are welcome but remain modest compared to the huge private and public flows, often in the form of grants, that lead to deforestation,” said Frances Seymour of the World Resources Institute, a research group. .
This commitment comes against a backdrop of growing awareness of nature’s role in tackling the climate crisis, something Britain sought to highlight at the climate summit, known as COP26. Unspoiled forests and peatlands, for example, are natural reservoirs of carbon, keeping it isolated from the atmosphere. But when these areas are exploited, burned or drained, ecosystems switch to the release of greenhouse gases.
If tropical deforestation were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, according to the World Resources Institute, after China and the United States. Much of the world’s deforestation is due to basic agriculture, with people cutting down trees to make room for livestock, soybeans, cocoa and palm oil.
The value of healthy forests goes far beyond carbon. They filter water, cool the air, and even make rain, supporting agriculture elsewhere. They are essential for maintaining biodiversity, which suffers its own crisis as extinction rates increase.
Previous efforts to protect forests have encountered difficulties. A program recognized in the Paris climate agreement seeks to pay forest nations to reduce tree loss, but progress has been slow.
Previous promises to end deforestation have also failed. A United Nations plan announced in 2017 made similar commitments. A 2014 agreement to end deforestation by 2030, the New York Declaration on Forests, set targets with no way to meet them, and deforestation continued.
The same will happen this time around, some environmentalists have predicted.
“It allows for another decade of forest destruction and is not binding,” said Carolina Pasquali, executive director of Greenpeace Brazil. “Meanwhile, the Amazon is already on the brink and cannot survive years of more deforestation. “
Supporters of the new pledge stress that it increases the number of countries and includes specific measures to save forests.
“What we’re doing here is trying to change the economy on the ground so that forests are worth more alive than dead,” said Eron Bloomgarden, whose group, Emergent, helps match public and private investors. with forest countries and provinces seeking to receive payments. to reduce deforestation.
Participating governments pledged “support to smallholders, indigenous peoples and local communities, who depend on forests for their livelihoods and play a key role in their management.”
Tuntiak Katan, the general coordinator of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities and a member of the Shuar people in the Ecuadorian Amazon, praised the support for indigenous and local communities, but questioned throwing money at a system that ‘he considers broken.
“If this funding does not work directly and side by side with indigenous peoples, it will not have the necessary impact,” he said.
This year, scientists discovered that parts of the Amazon have started to emit more carbon than they store.
China is one of the biggest signatories to the deforestation declaration, but the country’s top leader, Xi Jinping, did not attend the climate talks in Glasgow. China has suffered heavy forest losses as its population and industry have grown over the past decades, but more recently it has made a commitment to regrowth forests and develop sustainable tree cultivation.
According to China’s estimates, forests now cover about 23 percent of its landmass, up from 17 percent in 1990, according to the World Bank. Although some research has questioned the extent and quality of this extensive tree cover, the government has made extensive reforestation a pillar of its climate policies, and many parts of the country are significantly greener than they are. were a few decades ago.
Nevertheless, China’s participation in the new pledge could also test its dependence on imported timber from Russia, Southeast Asia and African countries, including large quantities of illegally felled trees.
In a written message to the Glasgow meeting, Xi “stressed the responsibility of developed countries in tackling climate change, saying they should not only do more themselves, but should also provide support to help developing countries do better, ”Xinhua news agency reported.