After a year of delay, COP26 was finally held in Glasgow in November 2021. One of its early celebrated outcomes was the signing of the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use (GLD), which brought, for the first time, governments of forest heavy-hitters like Brazil, Russia, and China onboard to the goal of halting and reversing global deforestation. Within days of its launch, it had secured the endorsement of 141 countries, covering over 90% of the world’s forests.
The GLD was the culmination of over a decade of political momentum to embrace the 2030 target to halt deforestation and restore degraded lands. From the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the Bonn Challenge in 2011, to the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) in 2014, to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement in 2015, the international community has awakened to the reality that our current approach to forest exploitation and management is not tenable if we want to secure a stable and livable climate.
Much of the media coverage of the GLD pointed out that the NYDF – the GLD’s most direct predecessor – failed to deliver on its 2020 targets of halving natural forest loss, restoring 150 million hectares of degraded land, and ending deforestation driven by agricultural commodity production. Adopted in 2014 at the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit, the NYDF garnered endorsements from 41 national governments and over 160 other stakeholders – subnational governments, Indigenous Peoples and local communities, companies, and nongovernmental organizations – who all signed on to “strive to end natural forest loss” and restore 350 million hectares of degraded land by 2030. The NYDF, with endorsers beyond national governments, remains the most comprehensive multistakeholder forest pledge in place.
Since 2015, the NYDF Assessment Partners have conducted an annual assessment of global progress toward the ten goals of the NYDF and its 2020 and 2030 targets. We have found that the NYDF’s 2020 targets were not met. Some indicators are actually moving in the wrong direction: annual tree cover loss and gross emissions from humid tropical primary forests, for example, are both increasing. Recent data indicates that the world is not on a trajectory to meet the 2030 targets either.
It is now 2022, and we have only eight years to end and reverse deforestation. The urgency for climate action is unlike that which we have seen before – drought, floods, disease, and displacement are becoming all too commonplace. Still, the global community is not starting from scratch in its quest to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. The NYDF Assessment has amassed an important reservoir of knowledge on global progress and the barriers that stakeholders face in protecting and restoring forests. From ending agricultural commodity-driven deforestation, to increasing finance for forests, improving forest governance, promoting sustainable development, and setting and implementing ambitious national forest targets under the Paris Agreement, we have amassed a great deal of knowledge about what works, what doesn’t, and what remains to be done to turn the tide on deforestation.
We know that respecting Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ rights to their traditionally held and managed land pays climate dividends in securing and increasing carbon stored in forests. And we know that when government regulations and enforcement are combined with voluntary private sector initiatives, commodity-driven deforestation can be held in check, as has happened in Indonesia. On the flip side, we have seen that voluntary private sector initiatives can have unintended consequences – for example, the Amazon Soy Moratorium was wildly successful in reducing deforestation in the Amazon, only to drive a drastic uptick in the conversion of native deforestation in the Cerrado. Siloed approaches more often than not lead to leakage and failed efforts.
For the next four weeks, the NYDF Assessment will summarize progress made since 2014 against the NYDF goals. Taken together, these goal summaries provide a holistic overview of the state of play and key remaining challenges in protecting, restoring, and sustainably managing forests. The slide decks also serve as a baseline for assessing efforts from now until 2030 across the following four forest themes:
These summaries provide a resource for those who want to learn how far we have come – and where we have stumbled – so that we can refine, improve, and accelerate our actions moving forward. They also provide a stark reality check for decision-makers who have offered a range of forest commitments in response to the growing urgency of the climate crisis, but who have been much slower to enact the necessary policies and invest the much-needed finances to shift our trajectory. The NYDF Assessment has and will continue to fill its essential role as a global accountability mechanism for forest pledges, and these summaries provide a baseline for our assessments through 2030.
The majority of nations have declared the critical need to protect our forests as part of the heroic global effort to tackle climate change. We have a chance to capture this recent political momentum and finally turn the tide on deforestation. We’re on our way, but we have a long way to go. First, let’s take a moment to review the lessons of the past – and then let’s get to the world we want together.