- Countries are nowhere close to meeting the goal of ending deforestation by 2030 announced in Glasgow in 2021, a new assessment shows.
- Indonesia is the only country that is moving in the right direction, registering declining deforestation rates in each of the past five years, which means tropical Asia as a whole is the only region on track to end forest loss.
- The world added forests the size of Peru between 2000 and 2020, but these gains don’t make up for the erasure of natural primary woodland, the report authors warn.
One year ago, leaders of more than 140 countries came together at the U.N.-backed climate talks, known as COP26, promising to halt deforestation by 2030. A new assessment shows that reductions are nowhere close to what is needed to bring deforestation rates down to zero.
The Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use at Glasgow in 2021 emerged from a recognition that 10-12% of planet-warming emissions come from the conversion of natural landscapes, including through deforestation and degradation. The planet is losing 10 million hectares (25 million acres) of forest cover every year, or an area the size of Cuba.
“We are quickly moving toward another round of hollow commitments and vanished forests,” David Gibbs, a researcher at the World Resources Institute, which manages the Global Forest Watch platform, said in a call with reporters on Oct. 23. The next round of high-level climate talks, or COP27, will start in Egypt on Nov. 6.
In its central aims, the Glasgow pledge is a successor to the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) of 2014, which called for countries to halve deforestation rates by 2020 and aim for zero forest loss by 2030. In 2021, deforestation rates fell by only 6% compared to 2018-20, according to the new assessment by the Forest Declaration Platform, which was established in 2017 to support the NYDF goals and has since expanded its scope to include the Glasgow pledge.
“The world can’t let 2030 pass like the failed 2020 milestone of the New York Declaration on Forests,” Franziska Haupt, a managing partner at the consultancy Climate Focus, which is part of the Forest Declaration Platform, said during the press call.
Indonesia is the only country that is moving in the right direction, with the rate of forest loss decreasing in each of the past five years. In 2021, its deforestation rate dropped by 25%. Indonesia’s neighbor, Malaysia, also reported a fall of 24% in the pace of forest loss last year. This progress means tropical Asia is the only region on the path toward ending deforestation by 2030.
While deforestation rates in tropical Africa and Latin America declined in recent years, those reductions fall short of meeting the 2030 deadline. One of the biggest underperformers was Brazil, where deforestation remains high and the outgoing government’s policies have undermined efforts to stop forest destruction.
Brazil, which hosts the world’s largest swath of tropical forests, is also the country that loses the largest chunks of its forest cover every year. In 2021, it recorded an increase in deforestation rates. One of the major reasons is the systematic sidelining of Indigenous peoples, who occupy pockets of the Amazon and act as its stewards, in decision-making, and in some cases their active persecution.
There are silver linings to the gloomy review, with countries like the Republic of Congo and Peru taking steps to strengthen the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities, or IPLCs. Still, these groups are underrepresented in policymaking, and the recognition and enforcement of their rights is poor. IPLCs are currently getting only 3% of the funding required yearly to secure their land rights and safeguard the ecosystems on which they depend.
The financial crunch faced by IPLCs reflects a broader trend in the underfinancing of forest preservation efforts.
The Forest Declaration Assessment is also highly critical of the role of corporate players, many of whom announced voluntary commitments to eliminate deforestation. The analysis found that private players are also way behind in meeting the goal of purging agricultural supply chains of deforestation by 2025.
Reductions of 20% annually in deforestation linked to commodities are needed to meet the 2025 deadline. Only a quarter of big agribusiness entities announced clear targets to rid their supply chains of deforestation. What’s more, these commitments are ill-defined and often poorly monitored.
The mining sector fares even worse when it comes to safeguarding forests. The assessment emphasizes the threat that mega projects pose to forests. They spawn energy-guzzling settlements that are hubs of urbanization. All tropical forests hotspots — from the Amazon to the rainforests of Southeast Asia to the Mekong Delta and the Congo Basin — are sites of such projects.
Forests in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Cameroon, in Central Africa, which host the biggest slice of the Congo Basin rainforest, are under immense pressure. In 2021, both countries recorded increases in deforestation, with an 11% rise in Cameroon. The DRC saw a smaller increase in the pace of deforestation. However, slight upticks for the second-largest African country translate into the disappearance of sprawling forest areas. The DRC hemorrhaged half a million hectares (1.23 million acres) in 2021, an area bigger than Grand Canyon National Park in the U.S.
This year, the DRC announced the auctioning of oil and gas blocks, some of which lie within forestland and overlap with protected areas. While conservationists expressed alarm at the move, the surging demand for natural gas in Europe and oil in the global market are making such investments especially attractive.
Concerted action from all stakeholders is one recipe for curbing deforestation, the report authors argue, citing the case of Indonesia. They highlighted actions by both the private sector and the government to address the biggest driver of deforestation in the country: palm oil.
In 2018, Indonesia passed a moratorium on new oil palm plantations. By 2020, a majority of palm oil refiners had committed to no-deforestation pledges, or NDPE. That year, the palm oil-linked forest loss fell to its lowest in 20 years. But in a move highlighting the fragility of these gains, Indonesia did not renew the ban on new oil palm plantations last year.
Another bright spot is the global expansion of forest cover over an area the size of Peru between 2000 and 2020. While efforts to recover degraded forestland and expand tree cover are laudable, the report noted, they cannot make up for the erasure of standing primary forests that serve as habitat for wildlife, lock away carbon, and provide a host of ecosystem services like regulating water availability.
The Forest Declaration Assessment was carried out by a coalition of research organizations like WRI, policy think tanks and nonprofits like WWF, Conservation International and the Rights and Resources Initiative. It tracks progress on the NYDF and now the Glasgow pledges since neither include built-in monitoring mechanisms.
Banner image: A hornbill flies in a tropical forest. Image by Anna Tarazevich via Pexels (Public domain).
Ferrante, L., Barbosa, R. I., Duczmal, L., & Fearnside, P. M. (2021). Brazil’s planned exploitation of Amazonian indigenous lands for commercial agriculture increases risk of new pandemics. Regional Environmental Change, 21(3). doi:10.1007/s10113-021-01819-6