The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use

First published on November 03, 2021

by Shailendra Yashwant for Sanctuary Asia

On Tuesday, November 2, 2021, more than 100 world leaders promised to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, in what is being dubbed as the first major deal at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. The countries who have signed the pledge — including Canada, Brazil, Russia, China, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the US — cover around 85 per cent of the world's forests. The pledge includes almost $19.2 billion of public and private funds.

The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use says, “Recognise that to meet our land use, climate, biodiversity and sustainable development goals, both globally and nationally, will require transformative further action in the interconnected areas of sustainable production and consumption; infrastructure development; trade; finance and investment; and support for smallholders, Indigenous Peoples, and local communities, who depend on forests for their livelihoods and have a key role in their stewardship.”

Governments of 28 countries also committed to remove deforestation from the global trade of food and other agricultural products such as palm oil, soya and cocoa. These industries drive forest loss by cutting down trees to make space for animals to graze or for crops to grow. 

“Governments representing 75 per cent of global trade in key commodities that can threaten forests—such as palm oil, cocoa and soya—will commit to a common set of actions to deliver sustainable trade and reduce pressure on forests, including support for smallholder farmers and improving the transparency of supply chains,” said a statement from the UK government. However, there is little detail in the new declaration on how the goal will be met— for example, by paying countries for preventing projected clearances—or how progress will be monitored. The goal also isn’t legally binding. 

India is among the countries that has chosen not to sign this Leaders' Declaration, citing concerns around linkages made in the final text with trade. There are speculations that this may be to do with India’s plans to push palm oil plantations but there has been no official confirmation from the Indian delegation except its objection that, “Trade falls under the WTO and should not be brought under climate change declarations.” 

Forest experts were cautious in welcoming this new deal, pointing out that previous deals including the one in 2014 have failed to stop deforestation, one even going so far to point out that “at the rate Brazil is destroying its forests, there will be no forests left to protect by 2030.” 

The 2030 goal is identical to the one made seven years ago by a smaller group of countries, known as the New York Declaration on Forests. They also set an interim goal of halving deforestation by 2020, a target that was missed by a wide margin. But this time, the EU, China and the US alongside major forested countries like Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Papua New Guinea will all sign the commitment.

Forests play a key role in regulating the local, national, and global climate. According to the IPCC, all scenarios for limiting warming to 2°C this century rely on reductions in deforestation and forest degradation. The IPCC also found that protecting existing forests is a faster, better, and cheaper way to stabilise the global climate than planting new trees.

Forests absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, helping to keep average global temperatures lower than they would otherwise be. Between 2019-20, tropical forest loss emitted 2.6 billion metric tonnes of CO2, equivalent to the annual emissions from 570 million cars.

In addition to fuelling the global climate crisis, deforestation has a major impact on local and regional rainfall patterns and local temperatures leading to higher temperatures, longer dry seasons, shorter but extreme rainfall seasons, all of which wil have significant impact on the biodiversity.

Shailendra Yashwant is an independent documentary photographer and environmental journalist based in India. He has been documenting, reporting and campaigning on wildlife conservation, social justice and climate change issues in South Asia for over three decades now.

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