Producers and consumers of commodities such as soya and cocoa will be urged by the government to commit to ending land clearances.
The UK government is pressing for an ambitious agreement among world leaders at Cop26 to halt and reverse forest loss and degradation.
Large producers and consumers of deforestation-related commodities like soya, cocoa, coffee, and palm oil have been challenged to commit to halting land clearances, which are the second greatest source of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. On the second day of the climate summit in Glasgow, a group of world leaders is due to launch the effort, along with fresh funds to safeguard forests.
Cop26 is focusing on halting the catastrophic deterioration of nature, as the devastation of the world’s forests has continued apace, with millions of hectares removed every year. Scientists have warned that significant swaths of the Amazon rainforest may be on the verge of converting to savannah, a transition traditionally thought to take decades. According to data analysed by Global Forest Watch from the University of Maryland, the rate at which the world’s forests were lost grew dramatically in 2020.
The goal of Cop26 is to get the world on track to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement, which commits states to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, with a goal of staying under 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, the UK hosts, the UN, and other key players in the talks have admitted that the emissions reductions provided by countries will fall short of what is required to fulfil the 1.5°C goal, and are aiming to reach agreements on areas such as forests, coal, transport, and other sectors.
Along with world leaders’ commitments at Cop26, public and private sector financing announcements for halting and slowing deforestation are anticipated. They might include additional financing to conserve the Congo basin rainforest, the world’s second-largest, as well as a vow to protect indigenous populations around the world, who are regarded as the best stewards of the environment.
Zac Goldsmith, the UK’s environment minister, recently told a House of Lords committee that developing countries urgently needed new funds to keep their forests alive. “We know we need to massively increase finance for nature,” he remarked. “There are some highly forested, low-deforestation countries we are incredibly grateful to, but we can’t take that for granted because any change in regime could easily change that equation. Until we find a way to make these living, breathing, healthy forests valuable in the short term for local people, local communities, local economies, there is always going to be a sword hanging over them. So there’s a real challenge.”
Separately, through the Forest, Agriculture, and Commodity Trade (FACT) dialogue, the British and Indonesian governments are monitoring talks for a voluntary pathway to minimise commodity-driven deforestation. The EU, the US, and forested countries like Peru, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as dozens of companies and civil society organisations, backed a prior pact to cease deforestation by 2030, known as the New York declaration on forests.
However, many countries, including India, Brazil, Malaysia, and China, have refused to support the accord, which has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by the same amount as removing all of the world’s cars from the road.
Many key consumer and producer countries of deforestation-linked commodities are participating in the Fact dialogue, which is focused on four separate issues to address deforestation: transparency and traceability, trade and markets, smallholder farmers, and research and innovation.
Because numerous nations had previously made deforestation pledges that they had not met, Frances Seymour, a forest and governance expert at the World Resources Institute, said Cop26 agreements needed to reflect increased ambition.
She added, “The United Kingdom’s use of the Cop presidency to spotlight the urgency of ending deforestation is welcome and necessary, yet the share of political attention and finance that forests receive compared with their mitigation potential is still off by roughly an order of magnitude. And that’s before you take into account the impacts of forest loss on agricultural productivity and public health, and on the rights and livelihoods of indigenous and local communities.”
“Getting deforestation out of commodity supply chains is a shared responsibility between consumer and producer countries, so constructive dialogue is needed to agree on who needs to do what. But dialogue can’t be an excuse for delay or a substitute for action.”
Other countries with a strong interest in forests and wildlife will support the UK hosts, as will the Prince of Wales, who has a track record of bringing countries together to prevent deforestation and damage and will be attending certain Cop26-related events. Conservation, biodiversity, and forestry are likely to be among his top priorities.
Professor of ecosystem science at the University of Oxford, Yadvinder Malhi, said that decreasing deforestation rates were critical to addressing the climatic and environmental issues but warned against rushing to zero deforestation.
“Cleaning up supply chains is important, as it is a scandal that some supermarkets are selling meat and dairy produced using animal feed grown on recently deforested land,” said Simon Lewis, a professor of global change science at University College London. “But ultimately, if demand for commodities from tropical lands is high, then the land will probably be deforested to meet it.”
“The solution? Countries should adopt declining budgets for the total footprint of agriculture they use. This would steadily reduce the global area of agricultural land needed to feed humanity, and so take the pressure off the world’s remaining forests.”