The World Made A Big Pledge To End Deforestation. It Immediately Fell Off Track.

The world remains wildly off track of its goal to halt forest loss by the end of the decade despite making some progress toward curbing deforestation last year, a new analysis finds.

The Forest Declaration Assessment, published on Monday, provides a comprehensive glimpse at global forest health one year after more than 140 countries representing 90% of the world’s forests committed to ending deforestation by 2030.

“In order to meet the 2030 zero deforestation target, we would need to see a 10% reduction in global deforestation every year from 2021 to 2030,” Erin Matson, a senior consultant at Climate Focus, one of the organizations that conducts the annual report, told reporters during a press call. “In 2021, deforestation reduced by 6.3% — a good start, but not on track with a 10% trajectory.”

“The picture is not yet rosy,” she added.

The deforestation pact at last year’s United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, was widely celebrated, despite plenty of reasons to be skeptical that it would lead to meaningful change. In 2014, dozens of nations signed on to the New York Declaration on Forests, setting a goal of cutting deforestation in half by 2020 and ending it altogether by 2030. That pledge did little to slow forest destruction.

One year after COP26 in Scotland, the world is already digging itself into another hole. Globally, 6.8 million hectares of forest — an area roughly the size of Ireland — were lost in 2021, according to the report. In the tropics, intact primary forests decreased 3.1%.

“We are quickly moving toward another round of hollow commitments and vanished forests,” David Gibbs, a research associate at the World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Watch, said in a statement accompanying the release of the Forest Declaration Assessment.

Cattle graze amid smoke caused by fires along a highway in Manicoré in Brazil's Amazonas state in September. Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has surged under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
Cattle graze amid smoke caused by fires along a highway in Manicoré in Brazil’s Amazonas state in September. Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has surged under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

MICHAEL DANTAS/AFP via Getty Images

The report, formally known as the New York Declaration on Forests Progress Assessment, used deforestation data from 2018 to 2020 to establish a baseline for comparison.

One of the biggest hurdles to reining in forest loss is a severe lack of investment. Protecting and restoring forest ecosystems on a global scale is estimated to cost up to $460 billion annually. According to the report, an average $2.3 billion is being spent each year — less than 1% of what is needed.

“The COP26 finance pledges altogether could increase that amount by up to four times, to 9.5 billion U.S. dollars per year,” but details remain scarce, Matson said. “That would still only be a fraction of the finance needed.”

As part of the COP26 initiative, President Joe Biden pledged up to $9 billion through 2030 to fight deforestation around the globe; however, that funding still must get approval from Congress.

“Preserving forests and other ecosystems can and should play an important role in meeting our ambitious climate goals as part of the net-zero emissions strategy we all have,” Biden said at last year’s summit. “The United States is going to lead by our example at home and support other forested nations and developing countries in setting and achieving ambitious action to conserve and restore these carbon sinks.”

Forest-rich nations that signed on to last year’s pledge included Brazil, China, Colombia, Congo, Indonesia and Russia. John Kerry, the Biden administration’s special climate envoy, publicly applauded Brazil for its new commitments at the summit, including to end illegal deforestation by 2028 — two years ahead of schedule.

But as experts told HuffPost at the time, there was little reason to take Brazil’s deforestation pledge seriously. Monday’s report highlights that the South American nation continues to move in the wrong direction under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, a climate change denier who has overseen record deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

“We are quickly moving toward another round of hollow commitments and vanished forests.”

– David Gibbs, research associate at the World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Watch

Brazil continues to be the planet’s largest contributor to deforestation, tallying a 3% increase in the rate of deforestation last year, according to the assessment.

“That is a country where we have seen that when solutions are put into place — where there are strong government mandates, private sector action, full society engagement — there can be a significant reduction in deforestation,” said Matson, noting the declines in deforestation in Brazil between 2004 and 2012. “Obviously, since then, that progress has been significantly rolled back and reversed.”

Deforestation rates also ticked up in Bolivia, Paraguay and the Democratic Republic of Congo last year.

The report is not without its bright spots. Tropical Asia stands alone as the only region that is on pace to meet the 2030 target, the assessment found. That’s in large part because of progress in Indonesia, the only nation to reduce deforestation rates each of the last five years, and Malaysia. In Africa, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire decreased deforestation 13% and 47% in 2021, respectively, through a concerted effort to boost sustainability within the cocoa trade.

The problem with falling behind on the latest deforestation target this early is that the difference will have to be made up, Matson said. And 2030 is only eight years away.

“It becomes harder every year to reach that gross deforestation reduction goal for every year that we don’t do it,” Matson said. “Our report recommends that governments should take much more forceful action to regulate private sector actors, to level the playing field.”

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