Ambitious plan to end forest loss announced at UN Climate Summit

A palm oil plantation in Indonesia.
CC BY 2.0 Achmad Rabin Taim. A palm oil plantation in Indonesia.

A new partnership between governments, businesses and indigenous leaders aiming to reduce forest loss was announced at today’s UN Climate Summit in New York City. The “New York Declaration on Forests” aims to cut the rate of forest loss in half by 2020 and end deforestation by 2030.

The ambition of this plan matches the urgency of the need to protect forests, which is an important factor in curbing carbon emissions. Forest clearing is responsible for emitting over 4.5 billion tons of carbon every year. Stopping deforestation has emerged as a particularly cost-effective means of reducing emissions.

Protecting forests is also an important human rights issue for the indigenous peoples who live in them and depend on them for their livelihoods. A recent report from the World Resources Institute showed that legally recognized forest communities are effective at preventing deforestation.

“That’s why we have any natural forest left at all on the planet. If you map where indigenous people live and where we have intact forests, there’s an amazing overlap there,” Charles Ian McNeill, a senior policy advisor for the United Nations Development Program, told TreeHugger. “That’s not a coincidence.”

A coalition of indigenous leaders from Asia, Africa, Central America and the Amazon Basin pledged to protect the over 400 million hectares of tropical forests under their jurisdiction, a carbon sink worth over 70 gigatons. Peru, Chile, Indonesia, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are among the 31 countries endorsing the declaration.

Yet in far too many parts of the world, the rights of indigenous people go unrecognized. As part of today’s announcement, a number of donor countries made resources available to help forest communities. Norway has pledged $100 million towards indigenous peoples, as part of a $3 billion commitment towards climate and forest purposes. Other donor countries include the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and Japan.

Just as importantly, a significant number of companies also support the agreement, which means eliminating products associated with deforestation from their supply chains by 2020. Some companies have set their targets even sooner, like Unilever’s promise to be deforestation-free by 2015.

“Business will be increasingly held to a higher level of accountability,” said Unilever CEO Paul Polman yesterday at an event held by the Climate and Land Use Alliance. “I’m encouraged by the number of companies who are signing up.”

Also committing to clean up their supply chains are Cargill, Wilmar and Golden Agri-Resources, three of the largest palm oil producers—a commodity that has been closely associated with deforestation. About 60 percent of palm oil production is now managed by companies that have made commitments to providing deforestation-free commodities by 2020. This is a major change, as little more than a year ago no such commitments had been made.

McNeill said that UN agencies have plans in place to follow up on private sector commitments after one year. “The whole world is watching now. We hear you, we appreciate this commitment,” he said. “But the bulk of it is still to come and we’ll be watching.”

Ambitious plan to end forest loss announced at UN Climate Summit
A massive public-private partnership pledges over $1 billion to cut deforestation and mitigate climate change.

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