As over 120 heads of state gathered in New York City for Tuesday’s United Nations climate summit, bold statements and commitments to fighting climate change are in order. Some were domestic goals — Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile said by 2025, 45 percent of their energy will be green. Others were financial pledges — Korea pledged $100 million to the Green Climate Fund. While the main theme of this week’s climate events in the build-up to the Paris, 2015 summit is the link between confronting climate change and growing economies, the issue of deforestation is playing a large role. This was evidenced by several major announcements at and around Tuesday’s summit, including the New York Declaration on Forests.
Endorsed by over 30 countries countries, including the United States, all members of the E.U., and many tropical forest countries, the New York Declaration on Forests aims to at least halve the rate of loss of natural forests globally by 2020 and strives to end natural forest loss by 2030. It also supports the private-sector goal of eliminating deforestation from the production of agricultural commodities such as palm oil, soy, paper, and beef products by no later than 2020. More than 40 major companies, including Kellogg’s, Walmart, and McDonalds also endorsed the deal. The group also pledged to restore more than one million square miles of forest worldwide by 2030.
“I asked for countries and companies to bring bold pledges, and here they are,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement. “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.”
Deforestation accounts for about 10 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide. A decade ago this number may have been closer to 20 percent before Brazil stemmed forest destruction and China ramped up carbon emissions. About 95 percent of current “Intact Forest Landscapes” are concentrated within tropical and boreal regions around the equator and in the northern regions of Canada and Russia. Action at the summit focused on the Amazonian forest, some of the most ecologically diverse and environmentally degraded in the world, as well as West African forest.
In a three-country agreement, Peru, Norway, and Germany entered a partnership to reduce deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon. Peru is hosting the upcoming United Nations climate summit in Lima at the end of 2014. In an announcement at the summit, Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg said that Norway will support Peru’s efforts with up to $300 million until 2020.
“Peru will take immediate and decisive action to reduce forest-related emissions,” she said, speaking directly after Peru’s president Ollanta Humala announced the initiative. “This important agreement ensures our responsibility for helping stop deforestation of rainforests around the world.”
Barbara Hendricks, Germany’s Federal Environment Minister, said preventing deforestation of tropical forests is essential.
“The global drivers of deforestation — demand for wood and timber, palm oil, beef — are constraints on forest conservation,” she said. “We are working closely with companies and governments that are voluntarily committing to use deforestation-free supply chains.”
In another landmark deforestation deal involving Norway, Liberia announced intentions to stop cutting down trees in return for development aid. The West African nation, currently suffering and Ebola epidemic, is home to about 43 percent of the Upper Guinean forest. Under the deal, Norway will pay Liberia $150 million to stop deforestation by 2020, which includes building the necessary resources to monitor and protect the forests.
The BBC reported that Liberia has agreed to place almost a third of its forests under protected area status by 2020 and will refrain from issuing any new logging licenses until existing ones have been independently reviewed.
During a meeting on Monday at the Ford Foundation, Britain promised $234 million towards the fight against deforestation. In a group that included business, government, and indigenous representatives, Britain said it will invest $137 million over the next three years in government reform to stem illegal logging and $94 million to promote sustainable practices in supply chains.
“Good governance is a prerequisite for tackling climate change,” said Justine Greening, Britain’s Secretary of State for International Development. “Weak governance — ambiguous and unjust laws and contested use of land — mean that community rights in the forest are still the exception rather than the norm in too many countries.”
Not all was hunky-dory when it came to deforestation collaboration this week. The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that Brazil will not endorse the New York Declaration on Forests because the country was “not invited to be engaged in the preparation process,” according to Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira. While officials from the U.N. contested this claim, it offers an example of the challenges of aligning interests and satisfying demands when chartering global agreements.
Even if Brazil is not part of the agreement, it has goals of slowing the pace of deforestation to 1,500 square miles annually by 2020, down from around 2,256 square miles in 2012-2013, the last annual survey, according to Teixeira.
With so many new commitments and pledges, the challenges of implementing them will now play out on the ground.
“Our planet is losing forests at a rate of eight football fields every ten seconds,” said Carter Roberts, President and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund, in a statement. “Today we’ve seen important commitments from companies, governments, civil society and indigenous peoples to halt this trend. Now it is time for urgent collaboration to see these commitments realized on the ground.”