World leaders on Tuesday issued a multi-billion-dollar pledge to end deforestation by 2030, a promise met with skepticism by environmental groups who say more urgent action is needed to save the planet’s lungs.
According to summit hosts the British government, the pledge is backed by almost $20 billion in public and private funding and is endorsed by more than 100 leaders representing over 85 percent of the world’s forests, including the Amazon rainforest, Canada’s northern boreal forest and the Congo Basin rainforest.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the agreement on deforestation was pivotal to the overarching goal of limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius — the most ambitious Paris Agreement target.
“Climate change and biodiversity are two sides of the same coin,” Johnson said Tuesday.
“We can’t deal with the devastating loss of habitat and species without tackling climate change and we can’t tackle climate change without protecting our natural environment and respecting the rights of indigenous people.”
“So protecting our forests is not only the right course of action to tackle climate change, but the right course for a more prosperous future for us all,” he said.
Signatories include Brazil and Russia, which have been singled out for accelerating deforestation in their territories, as well as the United States, China, Australia and France.
The forests pact was the first of two anticipated announcements in Glasgow on Tuesday, with governments set to unveil a global agreement to reduce emissions of methane — a powerful greenhouse gas — by 30 percent this decade.
A senior US administration offical told AFP that 90 countries including “half of the top 30 major methane emitters” had signed up to the pledge.
The summit pact to “halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030” encompasses promises to secure the rights of indigenous peoples, and recognize “their role as forest guardians”.
While Johnson described the pledge as “unprecedented”, a UN climate gathering in New York in 2014 issued a similar declaration.
That deal saw more than 200 countries, companies and indigenous groups promise to halve the rate of deforestation by 2020, and end it by 2030.
However, an assessment earlier this year found that seven years on from the pact, virtually no government was on course to fulfill their responsibilities.
Trees continue to be cut down on an industrial scale, not least in the Amazon under the far-right government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Deforestation in Brazil surged in 2020, leading to a 9.5-percent increase in its emissions.
Humans have already cut down half of Earth’s forests, a practice doubly harmful for the climate when CO2-sucking trees are replaced with livestock or monoculture crops.
Almost a quarter of all man-made emissions of carbon dioxide can be attributed to land use activity such as logging, deforestation and farming.
And a growing body of research shows that large swathes of the Amazon basin are at risk of tipping from a carbon sink to a source of emissions due to deforestation and drought.
US President Joe Biden on Tuesday said that forests were an “indispensable piece of keeping our climate goals within reach” and urged leaders to seek to eliminate deforestation with the “same seriousness” as they pursued emissions cuts.
10 more years
Greenpeace criticized the Glasgow initiative for effectively giving the green light to “another decade of deforestation”.
“Indigenous peoples are calling for 80 percent of the Amazon to be protected by 2025, and they’re right, that’s what’s needed,” said Greenpeace Brazil executive director Carolina Pasquali.
“The climate and the natural world can’t afford this deal,” she said.
Many studies have shown that the best way of protecting forests worldwide is to keep them under the management of locals with generations of preservation knowledge.
The commitment comes a day after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres harangued the gathered leaders to act to save humanity.
“It’s time to say: enough,” he said.
“Enough of brutalizing biodiversity. Enough of killing ourselves with carbon. Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper. We are digging our own graves.”
The UN COP26 conference will continue for another two weeks to try to craft national plans to forestall the most devastating impacts of global warming.