It’s been a great day for forests and climate, but let’s have a great decade

Posted on November, 02 2021

As COP26 enters its third day, we see some glimpses of hope.
By Josefina Braña Varela, Vice President for Forests and Forest Climate Solutions Lead at WWF-US

Two years ago, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its special report on “Climate Change and Land,” and the science is clear: Forests and land are of critical importance for climate change as a source of emissions and as part of the solution. Yet, the amount of finance allocated to support efforts at scale to combat deforestation and degradation has been dwarfed by the $777 billion spent on finance and subsidies for key commodities where deforestation occurs.

As COP26 enters its third day, we see some glimpses of hope. Yesterday during the high-level segment for heads of state, we heard political recognition of the role forests and nature play, not only for tackling the climate crisis but also for helping us increase our resilience as humans, shielding us from a new pandemic and providing goods and services that help us thrive. We heard a diverse group of developing countries, including Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mongolia, Panama, and Sri Lanka, among others, asserting the importance of forests and nature and the need to advance integrated strategies to confront climate and nature challenges together. We also heard from developed countries: President Joe Biden highlighted a new U.S. pledge to quadruple its climate finance commitments, and having healthier ecosystems and halting deforestation are part of the plan. Additionally, French President Emmanuel Macron recognized that climate and biodiversity agendas are interlinked and forests and oceans must be protected.

Today those statements became more tangible. Through the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, an overwhelming number of leaders representing 85% of the world’s forests committing to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030 and the accompanying economic package of almost $20 billion from public funds, philanthropy, and private investments are certainly welcome. The fact that the announcements are presented as a joint pledge from developed and developing countries and public and private funds is also an important step forward. WWF and others have been calling for this alignment of efforts to catalyze action and scale up impact and for governments and corporations to avoid undermining each other’s work.

From the COP26 stage this morning, President Biden shared the U.S. intention to dedicate up to $9 billion of public sector funding for forests by 2030. While global in scope, the funds will be directed toward incentives for forest and ecosystem conservation and forest landscape restoration in the Amazon, Congo and Southeast Asia. This move clearly validates the role of nature-based solutions, and forests specifically, in the fight against climate change, particularly solutions that put people and incentives at the center. A bold step in the right direction, we hope that more world leaders will soon follow suit.

But if the New York Declaration on Forests fell short of delivering its commitment to halve deforestation by 2020, will the Glasgow Declaration be successful in halting deforestation by 2030? There are three key conditions that need to be in place if these pledges and the economic package are going to be effective.

More landscape partnerships, fewer carbon transactions. The interventions that need to be prioritized are those that focus on delivering benefits for people, nature and climate integrally, as opposed to only focusing on maximizing carbon outcomes. An inclusive conservation and sustainable development approach is required to achieve emissions reductions from deforestation and degradation in the long run.

We must fully recognize and champion the critical role and long-standing leadership of Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) as stewards of forestlands. Numerous studies have documented the crucial contributions of IPLCs in conserving large forest areas within their territories, often with high cost-effectiveness. In their commitment to forest-based solutions, governments must show greater, more direct support for these forest defenders and their rights for these reasons and because, quite simply, justice and sustainability cannot be separated. 

Implementation, implementation, implementation. We must allocate the majority of the resources up front to help accelerate the implementation of actions, policies and measures to tackle deforestation, particularly in least developed countries. The call for proposals under the LEAF Coalition is an important and overdue signal of support for more advanced jurisdictional REDD+ programs and the results they could deliver at scale. At the same time, it demonstrates the urgent need for financial assistance and partnerships to implement national REDD+ strategies and/or low-carbon development plans to get results. Indeed, now is the time to support jurisdictions to implement the actions to deliver change on the ground so that more countries can meet ambitious goals and be eligible for performance-based payments.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. We are living a climate and nature emergency; the economic package of public funds and private investments must consider the fastest and simplest way to disburse the financing. It would be unacceptable to create complex rules to obtain support. Donors and multilateral organizations must streamline their processes to facilitate and expedite access to funds. There are some cases where financing takes more than three years to materialize. This is inadequate and unethical, and changes must be made.

Although the close to $20 billion in pledges announced today are commendable, finance for forests’ protection and restoration is minute compared to the larger spectrum of finance negatively impacting forests and climate. Today has been a good day for forests and climate. Let’s hope we can have a great decade moving forward.
Amazon Rainforest, Brazil.
© Paul Forster / WWF