(2014-09-23)Governments, multinational companies and campaigners are pledging to halt the loss of the world’s natural forests by 2030.
A declaration announced as part of a UN summit on climate change being held in New York also pledges to halve the rate of deforestation by the end of this decade and to restore hundreds of millions of acres of degraded land.
Backers of the New York declaration on forests claim their efforts could save between 4.5bn and 8.8bn tonnes of carbon emissions per year by 2030 – the equivalent of taking all the world’s cars off the road.
The UK, Germany and Norway have pledged to enter into up to 20 programmes over the next couple of years to pay countries for reducing their deforestation, which could be worth more than ￡700m.
Companies such as Kellogg’s, Marks & Spencer, Barclays, Nestle, the palm oil giant Cargill, Asia Pulp and Paper and charities including the RSPB, WWF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have signed the declaration.
The declaration’s supporters say ending the loss of the world’s natural forests will be an important part of limiting global temperature rises to 2C, beyond which the worst impacts of climate change are expected to be felt.
It comes after analysis suggests that land use change such as deforestation accounts for around 8% of the world’s carbon emissions, with carbon dioxide released when trees are felled and burned to free up land for agriculture or development.
“Forests represent one of the largest, most cost-effective climate solutions available today,” the declaration says.
“Action to conserve, sustainably manage and restore forests can contribute to economic growth, poverty alleviation, rule of law, food security, climate resilience and biodiversity conservation.”
Signatories to the declaration are committing to a number of steps to halt forest loss, including backing a private sector goal of eliminating deforestation from producing agricultural products such as palm oil, soy, paper and beef by no later than 2020.
They are also seeking to support alternatives to deforestation which is caused by subsistence farming and the need for wood fuel for energy and reward countries that reduce forest emissions.
The countries, businesses, charities and indigenous groups are also committing to restoring 150m hectares (370m acres) of degraded landscapes and forest areas by 2020, and speed up restoration so that another 200m hectares are restored by 2030.
Restoration of 350m hectares by the end of the next decade – an area greater than the whole of India – would have benefits for the climate by storing carbon and take pressure off primary forests.
The declaration is a key announcement at the UN climate summit, attended by more than 120 leaders including David Cameron, which aims to drive action ahead of talks in Paris next year when it is hoped a new global climate treaty will be agreed.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who convened the summit, said: “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.”
John Lanchbery, the RSPB’s principal climate change adviser, said many of the companies which had signed up alongside the wildlife charity and other conservation organisations had historically played a role in tropical deforestation.
He said they had either been directly involved in forest clearance or involved in supply chains that caused significant deforestation.
“Some have been a major part of the deforestation problem. They must also, however, be a major part of the solution. Signing up to the forest declaration shows their intention to change their ways and reduce deforestation dramatically.
“We welcome their willingness to change, although we will continue make sure that they really do,” he said.
Asia Pulp and Paper, one of the companies that has been attacked by green groups over deforestation in Indonesia, but which last year outlined a “forest conservation policy” committing to ending loss of rainforests, has signed the pledge.
Aida Greenbury, APP’s managing director of sustainability, 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.”
But Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, which has not signed the declaration, said there was a need for strong laws to protect forests and people, and warned that the pledge was missing ambitious targets and tangible actions.
“Halting the global loss of natural forests by 2030 and eliminating deforestation from agricultural commodities by 2020 at the latest would mean that years of continued forest clearance still lie ahead of us.
“While we are celebrating announcements on paper today, forests and forest peoples are facing imminent threats that must be averted if we want the declaration to become reality,” he said.