Five positive signs for forests in 2024

Posted on March, 18 2024

These top trends are driving increased understanding of the value of forests, more strategic thinking, greater coordination, more resources and new partnerships – all of which are crucial to make this the decade that we end deforestation for good.
World leaders have made a landmark pledge to end deforestation by 2030 but deforestation and forest degradation continue unabated. In 2022, global gross deforestation reached 6.6 million hectares and is particularly worrisome in tropical forests, where an area the size of Denmark has been lost. We’re not making anything like the progress required.

So can we turn things around by the end of the decade? It will take a monumental effort but, as we celebrate the annual International Day of Forests, here are five trends that suggest we can do it.

1. Climate and nature agendas are converging – and forests are at the heart of both

We’ve known for many years that forests are vital allies in combating climate change. We know, too, that forests are crucial for biodiversity, home to around two-thirds of all land-based species. Later this year, Colombia will host the first UN biodiversity Conference of Parties (COP) since the Kunming–Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework came into effect. This will be a chance to see what progress has been made in the two years following the historic agreement by 196 countries to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030.

What’s exciting is that, increasingly, leaders are acknowledging that climate and nature are two sides of the same coin. This was recognized at the last UNFCCC Climate COP in a joint statement on climate, nature and people, which affirmed the need "to urgently address climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation together in a coherent, synergetic and holistic manner" – offering a major boost to efforts to conserve, restore and sustainably manage forests.

2. Global agreements are spurring national-level action

International conferences, treaties and declarations aren’t just words – they drive action on the ground. Under the Paris Agreement, every country must submit a climate action plan called an NDC (nationally determined contribution): many have made forests a key part of their NDCs, as well as their related climate adaptation plans.

Similarly, under the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, countries must develop a national biodiversity strategy and action plan (NBSAP). This offers huge opportunities for forests as countries seek to meet globally agreed targets, such as effectively protecting at least 30% of all land and sea by 2030.

Importantly, NDCs and NBSAPs are regularly reviewed and updated, and we’re seeing increasing efforts to align them and develop solutions that benefit people, nature and the climate together.  

3. Indigenous rights and roles are gaining recognition

Indigenous Peoples have been guardians of nature for countless generations. Their ancestral forests and other ecosystems cover a quarter of the world’s land surface but hold up to 80% of its remaining biodiversity. Research shows that Indigenous lands are at least as effective as formal protected areas in preventing deforestation and forest degradation. Yet Indigenous Peoples and local communities formally govern only 10% of their lands and waters, and for too long they’ve been sidelined in debates and decisions on conservation and development.

Encouragingly, this is beginning to change, with coalitions of Indigenous Peoples becoming more prominent on the global stage and in country-level decision-making. Globally, there is growing recognition of the important roles and contributions of Indigenous Peoples as partners in the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use agenda. Importantly, there’s increased recognition that Indigenous rights and knowledge must be respected and their efforts supported if we are to meet the 30x30 target.

Last year, I was privileged to witness first-hand how partnerships with Indigenous communities are helping to conserve the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador – just one of many examples that point to a new way forward.

4. New finance for forests is emerging

Despite various government pledges, finance for forests falls far short of what’s needed to end deforestation by 2030, with just US$2.2 billion of public funds channeled into forests each year. For comparison, more than 100 times this amount is spent on environmentally harmful subsidies, including those which actively encourage deforestation. Repurposing these – as countries have pledged to do – could go a long way towards plugging the forest finance gap, estimated at $460 billion annually.

Other mechanisms are emerging capable of channelling finance at scale towards forest conservation, restoration and other nature-based solutions, particularly in developing countries such as those of the Congo Basin. Climate-related finance is one important area – including voluntary carbon markets, which have come under much-needed scrutiny over the past year. While rigorous, credible carbon credits still have a role to play, they should never be seen as a substitute for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s important to look at other sources of finance. 

I’ve just returned from Cameroon, where I met with representatives from the Central African Forests Commission (COMIFAC), to explore what financial mechanisms would best fit the needs of the countries to preserve their forest. Last year, we jointly commissioned Climate Focus to assess finance options for high integrity forests and now we are moving towards feasibility assessments for some of the more promising mechanisms.

5. Private sector efforts are gathering momentum

Forestry companies, agribusinesses and the companies that buy from them have a huge impact on forests – but can be a force for good too. Members of our Forests Forward platform are having positive impacts on forests through responsible sourcing, improved forest management and investing in forest landscapes. And many leading businesses, and the banks and finance institutions that back them, have committed to deforestation-free supply chains.

Adding weight to these voluntary initiatives are new regulations like the EU Deforestation Law, which makes it illegal to sell products linked with deforestation on the EU market. Under the Global Biodiversity Framework, large businesses and financial institutions will have to assess and disclose their risks, impacts and dependencies on biodiversity by 2030 – something that we campaigned for alongside more than 400 businesses with revenues of over US$2 trillion.

Together, these trends are driving increased understanding of the value of forests, more strategic and joined-up thinking, greater coordination, more resources and new partnerships – all of which are crucial to make this the decade that we end deforestation for good.
© Brent Stirton / Getty Images
© Brent Stirton / Getty Images