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COP26: World leaders sign up to multibillion-dollar pledge to end deforestation by 2030

The pledge is endorsed by more than 100 leaders representing over 85% of the world’s forests.

Deforestation of Temperate Rainforest
Deforestation of Temperate Rainforest
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Nov 2nd 2021, 11:15 AM

WORLD LEADERS HAVE issued a multibillion-dollar pledge to end deforestation by 2030, a promise met with scepticism 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.

“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.

Speaking to media this morning in Glasgow, the Taoiseach said the pledge to end deforestation by 2030 is “very significant and very important”.

“It’s important that commitments are made, and then work has to continue to improve upon those commitments, and to improve upon the world’s performance in relation to this.”

Martin said he will outline Ireland’s climate commitments and highlight the benefits of climate action, such as better air quality and cleaner waterways, in Ireland’s national statement later this afternoon.

“There’s an imperative here for everybody – irrespective of one’s politics – to do the right thing for the future generations.”

He said India’s commitment to reaching net-zero emissions by 2070 is positive but that “this is not the end of the story in terms of COP26”.

He said that, from speaking to people who have attended previous COP summits, “the old arguments of having to prove the case” with climate change is “over”.

“The argument now has switched very decisively on the actions we need to take.”

Signatories of the pledge 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 government of Brazil, much criticised for its environmental policies, announced Monday at the summit that it would cut 2005-level greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 — up from a previous pledge of 43 percent.

“We are presenting a new, more ambitious climate goal,” Environment Minister Joaquim Leite announced in a message transmitted from Brasilia to Glasgow.

Leite also said Brazil would aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. 

The Congo Basin

Speaking at a leaders’ event this morning, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Felix Tshisekedi said that the forest in the Congo Basin is “the second lungs of the planet and contributes largely to the regulation of the balance of the world’s climate,” but that it is “exposed to the risks of deforestation”.

“In the implementation of the Paris agreement, it’s crucial to take into account the reduction of these risks, because if not, we will see a detrimental climate crisis,” Tshisekedi said.

He pointed to solutions like sustainable agriculture, clean and sustainable energy production, and the preservation of local communities and indigenous people.

Ali Bongo Ondimba, the President of Gabon, told the summit that the Congo Basin forests “are critical to the stability of both the African continent and the world at large. Yet the international community has consistently undervalued this critical ecosystem”.

He said the developed world has “plundered our forests, extracting logs that have been the foundation for private industry outside the African continent”.

“The log leaves the African continent, we receive less than 10% of the potential value and create just 10% of the jobs at the source. For every job in Africa, there are nine offshore,” he said.

Instead, “we plan to save the forest by exploiting it sustainably. by ensuring it contributes to the Gabonese economy and provides jobs for hundreds of thousands of Gabonese people…. I urge the world to send by our side in our efforts to protect and understand our forest ecosystems.”

India targets net-zero 2070

For his part, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a target of net-zero emissions by 2070.

India’s commitment was eagerly awaited, as the South Asian giant is the fourth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China, the United States and the European Union.

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg urged the leaders gathered for COP26 to act and stop their “blah blah blah” during a demonstration in Glasgow.

Almost a quarter of all man-made emissions of carbon dioxide can be attributed to land use activity such as logging, deforestation and farming.

President Joko Widodo of resource-rich Indonesia said his own archipelago’s rainforests, mangroves, seas and peatlands were key to restricting climate change.

“We are committed to protecting these critical carbon sinks and our natural capital for future generations,” he said in a UK government statement.

10 more years

The summit pledge to “halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030″ encompasses promises to secure the rights of indigenous peoples, and recognise “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 to halve the rate of deforestation by 2020, and end it by 2030.

However, 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.

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.

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Greenpeace criticised 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 brutalising biodiversity. Enough of killing ourselves with carbon. Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper. We are digging our own graves.”

Summit host Johnson warned of the “uncontainable” anger of the younger generations if the leaders failed to act decisively on climate change.

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.

With reporting by Lauren Boland and Orla Dwyer

© – AFP, 2021

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