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COP26: 100 leaders pledge to end deforestation by 2030

Pledge has been backed by £14 billion ($19.2 billion) in public and private funding 

Over 100 world leaders will make a landmark pledge to end deforestation by 2030 at COP26 on Tuesday. These leaders— from the US, UK, Canada, Russia, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, among others—represent 85% of the world’s forests, making this announcement one of the biggest steps taken to protect these rapidly depleting regions.  

The pledge has been backed by £14 billion ($19.2 billion) in public and private funding. Public finance amounting to £8.75bn ($12 billion) will come from 12 countries, including the UK, while private finance will be worth £5.3 billion ($7.2 billion). 

The public funding will be used to support activities in developing countries, including restoring degraded land, tackling wildfires and supporting the rights of indigenous communities. Apart from this,  CEOs from more than 30 financial institutions with over $8.7 trillion of global assets –including Aviva, Schroders and Axa–will also commit to eliminate investment in activities linked to deforestation

“These great teeming ecosystems–these cathedrals of nature—are the lungs of our planet. Forests support communities, livelihoods and food supply, and absorb the carbon we pump into the atmosphere. They are essential to our very survival. With today’s unprecedented pledges, we will have a chance to end humanity’s long history as nature’s conqueror,and instead become its custodian,” UK prime minister Boris Johnson said at the Forest & Land Use event, where the deal was announced.

Why the need for such a deal?

It is estimated that since 1990, 178 million hectares of forest have been lost—an area roughly the size of Libya. This has naturally reduced the role that forests play in removing and storing carbon from the atmosphere. In fact, deforestation is creating the opposite effect. Emissions from forests are not on an upward trajectory, especially in tropical regions. Tropical forest loss emitted 2.6 billion metric tonnes of CO2, equivalent to the annual emissions from 570 million cars, between 2019-20. 

Deforestation is also changing the role forests play in regulating climate, such as reducing

evapotranspiration. This is having extreme effects on local temperatures and regional

rainfall patterns. Deforested land in the Brazilian Amazon, for example, is estimated to be up to 2°C warmer than adjacent or intact forests.

Indegenious people key to protecting forests, limiting warming to 1.5°C

This forest deal is likely to help indigenous populations, with new funding expected to protect regions such as the Congo basin rainforest. This is important because indegenious people as well as traditional local communities (TLCs) manage more than one-third of the world’s intact forests and 80% of all terrestrial biodiversity lives on their lands. Additionally, their lands have lower deforestation rates. For example, the forests under the indegenous people of Brazil are considered to be best preserved. Securing their rights along with those from the traditional local communities, therefore, is a cheaper and more effective way to sequester carbon than offsets. 

“We are delighted to see Indigenous Peoples mentioned in the forest deal. We look forward to a day when the political and economic sectors will push for secure tenure for communities, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is appropriate—in fact urgent—in light of the evidence that we represent an effective and untapped solution for the deforestation they have been unable to stop on their own,” said Joseph Itongwa Mukumo, indigenous Walikale from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and coordinator of the Network of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities for the Sustainable Management of Forest Ecosystems.

India stays out of the deal

India, which has forest cover on more than a fifth of its geographical area, has not joined the global deal despite participation by several of its neighbours. India is currently in the process of preparing its REDD+ strategy for reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation to the UN. The draft strategy prepared by the Environment Ministry in September this year is also a part of India’s Paris Agreement NDC which includes the creation of an additional carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2eq through forest and tree cover by 2030.

India’s REDD+ draft strategy document has identified 20 indicators for data collection and evaluation of the impacts on biodiversity and impacts on lives and livelihoods of forest-dependent communities. The draft relies heavily on India’s existing forest and land management policies, including but not limited to the National Forest Policy of 1988, National Agroforestry Policy of 2014, Indian Forest Act of 1927 , Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980, Environment (Protection) Act of 1986, the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act of 2016  and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006. While the various laws have been central to India’s forest management efforts, several of the policies included have had questionable implementation, with negative impacts on biodiversity and community rights. In recent years, the Indian government has also  sought to amend the Forest Conservation Act (unsuccessfully so far) to clear the path for increased economic activity in forest areas, much to the ire of conservationists and tribal rights activist alike.

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