Sigit Deni Sasmito, CIFOR

To stop climate change we must talk about nature loss at the same time

Insight / 28 Apr 2021

At the Leaders Summit on Climate last week nature was on the agenda and that’s the only way to stop the climate crisis

“We can’t reach our global goal of net zero emissions by 2050 without halting deforestation.” Those are the words of US climate envoy John Kerry speaking at the launch of a new coalition of governments and businesses to protect tropical rainforests. The US$1 billion LEAF Coalition was one of the initiatives to come out of the Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by President Biden on Earth Day last week. It came alongside promises by countries including the US, Japan and Canada to cut more emissions and a South Korean pledge to stop financing coal plants overseas. In speech after speech world leaders connected the nature and climate agendas. Now, going forward it is critical that governments, financial institutions and corporates address those twin challenges of nature loss and climate change simultaneously, rather than treating them separately.

As much as 30% of climate change mitigation could come from halting and reversing tropical deforestation. Rainforests in the Amazon and the Congo basin are carbon sinks. They absorb the emissions that we pump into the atmosphere. But if we destroy those sinks, those forests become carbon sources themselves and part of our problem. Between 2019 and 2020 tropical deforestation increased by 12%. Last year was the worst year for deforestation in Brazil in over a decade. The world won’t meet it’s Paris targets if we continue to let this happen.

The LEAF coalition

The LEAF coalition was a positive initiative to emerge from the summit. It stands for Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance and is backed by the governments of the US, the UK and Norway, alongside big companies including Amazon, Nestle, Airbnb, Unilever, GSK and McKinsey. It promises funding to countries, states or provinces running successful forest protection programmes that help cut emissions. Its signatories say it is the largest ever public-private effort to protect tropical forests and support sustainable development. We know, through projects like Trase, global trade of agricultural commodities is the leading driver of deforestation. To succeed this project must cut the production of things like beef, soy and palm oil in forest risk areas. The UK environment minister Lord Zac Goldsmith said he hopes this coalition will “genuinely move the dial on deforestation.”

Before last week’s summit the Brazilian government had asked for billions of dollars in aid to help them protect the rainforests. But US President Joe Biden was warned against offering any new money without seeing action first. Indigenous leaders, civil society and NGOs in Brazil remain sceptical of a government that has slashed environmental protections and overseen big increases in deforestation. The LEAF coalition sidesteps this problem. It promises payment on results, so money will only be delivered after forests have been protected and emissions cut. Plus it seeks to work with Indigenous people and local governments directly. The Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, one of the leaders behind the coalition promised “there will be full transparency regarding targets and progress and I am counting on civil society to hold us accountable.” By allowing the communities most at risk from deforestation to bid directly for money, it puts power back in their hands.

The biodiversity funding gap

On paper, LEAF seems to be a positive commitment, but there is still a long way to go. The LEAF coalition is only mobilising $1 billion. To make a meaningful difference, that number must grow by several orders of magnitude. By 2030 it’s estimated that biodiversity conservation funding needs could be as much as $967 billion. National governments and businesses currently only spend $143 billion funding biodiversity. That’s an $824 billion financing gap. Which makes $1 billion a small step in the right direction that must continue to grow.

Source: The Little Book of Investing in Nature

In 2014 almost 200 governments, NGOs and multi-nationals signed the New York Declaration on Forests. It promised to halve the rate of deforestation by 2020 and to end it by 2030. Despite these commitments deforestation has gone up, not down. Similarly businesses in the Consumer Goods Forum promised to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. It hasn’t happened. But several developments over the last few years suggest LEAF can be different. Because now raw data is at our fingertips. Forest 500 allows us to track company’s policies and commitments going forward. That means businesses and financial institutions can be judged by their actions. Trase and Trase Finance map the deforestation risk of companies and financial institutions at a previously unachievable scale and granularity. And tools like ENCORE allow financial institutions to explore their impacts and dependencies on nature across entire portfolios and economies. Because now the data is increasingly available and accessible, the pledges made last week can become a reality.

Speaking at the Leaders Summit for Climate, Alok Sharma, the President of COP26, November’s UN Climate summit in Glasgow, said the next decade “will be make or break for planet Earth.” Nature-based solutions are expected to be a key theme at COP26. And if world leaders continue to see nature as a big part of the solution, the essential fight against climate change becomes easier to win.

Image: Creativecommons

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