For the first time halting and reversing deforestation makes it into the final text of a COP deal

Insight / 13 Dec 2023

As the ink dries on the COP28 deal at the UN’s annual climate change conference – there’s recognition that nature and forests have a key role to play in the fight against climate change. Here are our 5 takeaways from Dubai.

1. Nature is critical for effective climate action

The final text agreed at COP28 reinforces the role of nature in the fight against climate change. In what it calls a “critical decade”, it recognises “the vital importance of protecting, conserving, restoring and sustainably using nature and ecosystems for effective and sustainable climate action.”

And the text goes further, for the first time promising to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. There have been declarations on deforestation at previous COPs – notably the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests at COP26 – but these did not have universal agreement or sign up.

Forests are vital for biodiversity and for the 1.6 billion people who rely on them for their lives and livelihoods. But they are also a bridge between climate and nature. Deforestation is responsible for 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Protecting them is undeniably part of the climate solution.

2. We need to transform our finance

Although nature did enjoy significant billing in the official text, what was missing was solid financial commitments to protect and restore nature.

And when it comes to finance the magnitude of the task ahead was laid bare by the release of the State of Finance for Nature report authored by UNEP and Global Canopy during COP. The report showed that almost US$7 trillion per year in government subsidies and private investment has a direct negative impact on nature. In fact, finance that harms nature outweighs finance for nature positive activities by more than 30-1.

The US$200 billion spent on nature based solutions is dwarfed by the weight of finance pitted against it. If the COP28 deal is going to have a real impact, governments and private finance need to urgently repurpose the $7 trillion a year that is currently harming nature.

3. Deforestation is driving our emissions

We know that the vast majority of deforestation is driven by agricultural expansion for a handful of key commodities. But new research released by Trase at COP28 revealed the true scale of the problem. It showed that forest and peat loss driven by the production of beef, soy, palm oil, wood pulp and cocoa generates more emissions than Germany.

The research then narrowed down the parameters to the share of commodities that were exported and found that yearly emissions from exports alone were greater than those of Spain (282 million tonnes CO2 equivalents). This highlights the opportunity that importing countries have to reduce global emissions significantly by eliminating deforestation from their supply chains.

4. Due diligence laws are key and more are following the EU’s lead

The Trase research highlights the global nature of the deforestation problem. This is why effective due diligence laws are an essential part of halting and reversing deforestation.

In 2021, the UK government promised the Environment Act would lead the world in combating illegal deforestation. But it’s taken two years for the government to publish the secondary legislation that is necessary to put the law into practice. At COP28 the UK government finally announced its due diligence law would cover beef, leather, soy, palm oil and cocoa. A number of leading supermarkets have urged the government to ensure the UK law aligns with the European Union Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) to help “further our collective ambition.”

Laws like the UK Environment Act, the European Union Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) and the Forest Act, which was re-introduced to the US Senate in December, are key parts of the puzzle. Legislation has the power level the playing field and forces the laggards to act. Going forward, such laws need to be the first of many regulatory steps, expanding the set of commodities and bringing in the finance sector who fund deforestation.

5. Forest nations at the front

At COP28 the Amazonian city of Belem was officially chosen to host COP30 in 2025. It will be the first time that Amazon has played host to a COP and leadership from forest nations like Brazil can be key.

Brazil has already promised to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. The latest figures show deforestation in the Amazon has fallen for the eight month in a row. There were new announcements too. In Dubai, Brazil proposed the Tropical Forests Forever fund – a new $250 billion fund to conserve the world’s tropical rainforests. It will be funded by public and private finance and the aim is to have the fund operational by COP30.

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