The UK government is pushing for an ambitious deal among world leaders at Cop26 to stop and reverse forest loss and deterioration, the Guardian reveals.
Large producers and consumers of commodities such as soy, cocoa, coffee and palm oil linked to deforestation have been urged to commit to stop land clearance, the second largest source of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. A coalition of heads of state and government is expected to announce the initiative on day two of the climate change summit in Glasgow, along with new funds to protect forests.
Containing catastrophic natural decline is a key concern of Cop26 as the destruction of the world’s forests continues at an unstoppable pace and millions of hectares are cleared every year. Scientists have warned that large parts of the Amazon rainforest could be on the verge of moving from rainforest to savannah, a tipping point previously thought to be decades away. In 2020, the rate at which the world’s forests were being destroyed has soared, according to data from the University of Maryland, analyzed by Global Forest Watch.
A Downing Street source told the Guardian: “Cop26 values ââtrees very much – they’re there as an equal part of ‘coal, cars, money and trees’ because the Prime Minister personally believes protecting nature and biodiversity is a must must be an important part of how we fight climate change. In addition to reducing CO2 emissions from coal and cars, the focus is on nature-based solutions. This is why Cop26 sees the UK Presidency pushing for a strong international deal to stop and reverse deforestation by 2030. “
The aim of Cop26 is to put the world on the right track to fulfill the 2015 Paris Agreement, which obliges governments to limit global warming to “well below” 2 Â° C with the aim of setting a limit of 1.5 Â° C must be observed. But the UK hosts, the UN and other leaders of the talks have admitted that the emissions cuts countries are offering are below what is needed to meet the 1.5C target and hope to reach deals on issues such as Forests, coal, transport and other sectors.
In addition to the commitment of world leaders to Cop26, funding announcements for stopping and slowing deforestation from the public and private sectors are expected. They could include new funds to protect the rainforest in the Congo Basin, the second largest in the world, and an accompanying pledge to protect indigenous communities around the world who are considered to be nature’s best guardians.
UK Environment Secretary Zac Goldsmith told a House of Lords committee this week that developing countries are in dire need of new funding to preserve their forests. “We know that we have to massively increase funding for nature,” he said. âThere are some heavily forested countries with little deforestation that we are incredibly grateful to, but we cannot take that for granted because any regime change could easily change that equation. Until we find a way to make these living, breathing, healthy forests valuable to the local people, the local communities and the local economy in the short term, there will always be a sword hanging over them. So it’s a real challenge. “
Independently of this, the British and Indonesian governments are overseeing the talks on a voluntary roadmap to reduce resource-related deforestation through the forest, agriculture and commodity trade dialogue (fact). An earlier agreement to end deforestation by 2030, known as the New York Declaration on Forests, was backed by the EU, the US and forest nations such as Peru, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as dozens of business and civil society organizations.
But crucially, many countries – including India, Brazil, Malaysia and China – did not support the deal, which could cut carbon emissions by the equivalent of eliminating all the world’s cars.
The fact dialogue encompasses many important consumer and producer countries of raw materials associated with deforestation and negotiates four different topics to solve deforestation: transparency and traceability, trade and markets, smallholders, research and innovation. The Guardian is aware that the ministers of the countries involved in the dialogue are still negotiating the roadmap, which will be published on Cop26.
Frances Seymour, forest and governance expert at the World Resources Institute, said Cop26’s commitments had to reflect heightened ambitions as several countries had previously made deforestation pledges that they had failed to deliver.
âThe UK’s use of the Cop Presidency to highlight the urgency to end deforestation is welcome and necessary, but the proportion of political attention and funding that forests receive compared to their mitigation potential is still around one Magnitude. And that’s before you consider the impact of forest loss on agricultural productivity and public health, as well as the rights and livelihoods of indigenous and local communities, âshe said.
âIt is the shared responsibility of consumer and producer countries to get deforestation out of the raw material supply chains, so a constructive dialogue is required to agree who has to do what. But dialogue cannot be an excuse for delay or a substitute for action. “
The UK hosts are supported by other countries with strong interests in forests and nature, as well as the Prince of Wales, who has a proven track record of bringing countries together to tackle deforestation and destruction, and will be attending some Cop26-related events. Conservation, biodiversity and forestry are expected to be some of his priorities.
Yadvinder Malhi, professor of ecosystem science at Oxford University, said slowing the rate of deforestation was essential to address climate and natural crises, but warned of a rush to zero deforestation.
“Large-scale production of raw materials by agribusiness is the main contributor to deforestation, and an agreement between major producer and consumer nations and businesses could be a turning point … if followed by implementation and good governance,” he said.
âBut I am more skeptical when it comes to a zero deforestation target as soon as possible. Zero is a charismatic number, but a significant amount of deforestation is chaotic and involves complex issues of local livelihood, community engagement and development. I would hope this comes to the fore with local community rights, something that a decades-long run to zero is not necessarily the best approach. “
Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science at University College London, said: âCleaning up supply chains is important as it is a scandal that some supermarkets sell meat and dairy products made from animal feed grown in recently deforested land . But ultimately, when the demand for commodities from tropical countries is high, land is likely to be cut down to meet them.
“The solution? The countries should adopt decreasing budgets for the total footprint of the agriculture they use. This would steadily reduce the global agricultural area required to feed mankind and thus relieve the world’s remaining forests.”