Governments and business leaders unite to end deforestation

A public-private partnership of multinationals, governments, civil society and indigenous peoples have pledged to halve the rate of deforestation by 2020 and eradicate the issue completely by 2030.

Announced at the UN Climate Summit in New York today (23 September), the ‘New York Declaration on Forests’ has been endorsed by the US, the EU and a large number of tropical forest countries, as well as multinationals from the food, paper, finance and other industries.

The global pledge will eliminate the emission of between 4.5 and 8.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year – equivalent to removing the carbon emissions produced by the one billion cars that are currently on the world’s roads.

The Declaration aims to change politics going into next year’s Paris climate talks and accelerate action by companies to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. It also calls for the restoration of over 350 million hectares of forests and cropland which would bring
significant climate benefits and take pressure off primary forests.

Speaking at the Summit, UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon said: “I asked for countries and companies to bring bold pledges, and here they are

“The New York Declaration aims to reduce more climate pollution each year than the United States emits annually, and it doesn’t stop there. Forests are not only a critical part of the climate solution – the actions agreed today will reduce poverty, enhance food security, improve the rule of law, secure the rights of indigenous peoples and benefit communities around the world.”

Key targets

The Declaration underlines the importance of reducing emissions from deforestation and increasing forest restoration in tackling climate change and implores partners to work together to:

  • At least halve the rate of loss of natural forests globally by 2020 and strive to end natural forest loss by 2030. 
  • Restore 150 million hectares of degraded landscapes and forestlands by 2020 and significantly increase the rate of global restoration thereafter, which would restore at least an additional 200 million hectares by 2030. 
  • The full list of commitments have the collective target of achieving a reduction in emissions by 4.5-8.8 billion tons per year by 2030.

Among the signatories is consumer goods giant Unilever. Chief executive Paul Polman says the Declaration is a ‘crucial step towards sustainable development’. 

“The last few months have seen a welcome race to the top,” said Polman. “Consumers have sent companies a clear signal that they do not want their purchasing habits to drive deforestation and companies are responding.

“Better still, companies are committing to working in partnership with suppliers, governments and NGOs to strengthen forest governance and economic incentives. It can be done and this Declaration signals a real intention to accelerate action.”

Another signatory is Asia Pulp and Paper Group (APP), which last year announced its Forest Conservation Policy and zero-deforestation commitment and has been working to apply the strategy over the last 18 months. The company also committed to support the preservation and restoration of one million hectares of Indonesian rainforest. 

APP’s managing director of sustainability Aida Greenbury said: “We have shown through our own Zero Deforestation policies that ambitious targets to protect the world’s remaining forests can be agreed, implemented and achieved by companies operating in emerging economies. 

“Our view is that wherever a company is involved in the forest supply chain, they should be implementing these policies immediately. There is no time to waste.”

UK Government pledge

In related news, the UK’s Department for International Development has today announced it is ploughing £144m into two new projects involving big businesses and farmers in developing countries in a bid to create deforestation-free supply chains and help eradicate the demand for illegally logged timber. 

Details of the new initiatives were announced by International Development Secretary Justine Greening, who said: “Climate change has the potential to halt or undo the progress we have made in the last two decades. Without action the world will get hungrier, poorer and more dangerous in the years to come. There is no point in building a health clinic for poor people in Bangladesh if it will get washed away by the next floods.”

Britain will contribute £144m to two new projects: the Investments in Forests and Sustainable Land Use scheme and the Forest Governance, Markets and Climate programme. The former will encourage businesses to help tackle deforestation through several public-private partnerships with local communities, farmers and international businesses to manage the sustainability of forests and encourage deforestation-free agriculture. The latter will support the closure of EU markets to illegally harvested wood and provide support to poor communities which will help them tackle illegal logging practice.

Greening added: “Investing in the better management of natural resources and putting a stop to deforestation is the smart thing to do. British businesses are already leading the way in setting up long-term sustainable supply chains.”

“Our assistance will help companies, communities, smallholders and governments work together to reduce deforestation and increase crop yields.”

Greening also called to attention the need for the formerly agreed post-2015 development goals to be ‘climate-smart’ and urged the international community to determine targets to protect rainforests and other natural resources.

Lois Vallely

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