Turning deforestation commitments into reality

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Judy Rodrigues, Executive Director, High Carbon Stock Approach

  • Global deforestation must be stopped by 2030 if we are to keep within the Paris Agreement 1.5 degree goals.
  • Zero Deforestation commitments can become a reality on the ground by developing integrated conservation and land use plans.
  • High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA) is helping to identify and protect forest for conservation – while protecting human rights.

The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use announced at COP26 has now been signed by 142 countries – committing their governments to stop global deforestation by 2030. The agreement, backed by $19.2 billion in government and private funding, was of course welcomed around the world. But how exactly can this huge commitment to the world be delivered – especially in just eight years?

The stark reality is that 80% of all tropical rainforest destruction has been caused by the insatiable global demand for palm oil, pulpwood, cocoa, beef, and rubber to produce daily consumer goods such as soap, chocolate, car tires, etc. Total tropical forest loss equates to 60 million hectares since 2002 – an area larger than the size of France. The unfathomable destruction of the Amazon rainforest is getting perilously close to a tipping point. This would mean it switches from rainforest to savannah, risking the release of billions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere.

Developing a consensus-led ethos

The drivers of tropical deforestation are fiendishly complex that can crisscross different continents and countries and operate under different regulation and commercial environments. So how can companies and their suppliers track and stop deforestation when the raw materials they use are farmed, produced and traded thousands of miles away?

One credible solution comes from the High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA). The HCSA developed as a collaboration between pulp and palm oil producers, working with local communities, Indigenous People, NGOs as well as forest mapping and monitoring experts. This broad-based coalition is a powerful check on deforestation – because all parties across the supply chain and on the ground must agree on specific areas of carbon-rich, biodiverse rainforests to protect.

This process is neither easy nor quick, but it delivers an agreed ‘Integrated Conservation Land Use Plan’ (ICLUP) that is independently monitored and publicly available. The second string to the ICLUP is that all parties agree on which areas of degraded land can be used for agricultural development to provide sustainable livelihoods and support local economic growth.

Mapping forests’ values

Any land use plan can only be effective if land mapping and monitoring is trusted by all parties. The HCSA works with international institutes and partners on using AI, satellite technology, and field mapping. It is fundamental to define clear, agreed boundaries for the protection of each distinct area. This is a crucial first step to eliminate deforestation.

But mapping goes beyond the urgent need to identify threatened rainforests and ecosystems. As the climate crisis accelerates, Indigenous People are by far the best guardians of tropical rainforests. According to the latest UN FAO Forest Governance report, Indigenous People are achieving deforestation rates that are up to 50% lower in their territories than elsewhere.

The participation of Indigenous People and local communities in ground surveys to capture information is essential for a credible, long-term Zero Deforestation plan to succeed. For example, areas that were not previously recognised could be of utmost importance. The joint mapping procedure defines the boundaries of traditional, cultural and spiritual places that have served communities for centuries – and conserve and protect abundant biodiversity.

Joint mapping also brings essential formal recognition of community land rights, areas that provide food security and land that provides resources to support livelihoods and economic development. This recognition is a hugely important model for commodity growers everywhere – from pulp and paper, to rubber, soy and palm oil.

The final layer of mapping is a social contract that protects labour rights and working conditions. It applies to commodity producers directly involved in new developments or agricultural expansion – and to all of their suppliers. This multilayered, inclusive mapping is a uniquely effective process to ensure longterm deforestation commitments are implemented through collaborative monitoring and dispute resolution mechanisms.

Urgency of smallholder support

Much of the focus of commodity-driven deforestation has been on large scale producers, commodity companies and mills. But small scale farmers and smallholders also play an essential and growing role in commodity production – globally three million smallholders make a living in the palm oil sector alone. In Indonesia, the world’s largest palm oil producer, smallholders supply 38% of total production and their farms cover nearly half the land under palm oil cultivation.

Independent smallholders are not linked to a company or a mill and often don’t benefit from training or support. With limited resources available to them, there is often little alternative but to buy cheap, low-yield seedlings or to burn land to make way for crops. There is an urgency for smallholder support. Plans to modify and adopt tools across different commodity sectors and supply chains internationally need to be developed further. The HCSA with its partners are trialling smallholder toolkits in the field to be used across different commodity sectors and supply chains internationally.

The time for Zero Deforestation is now

As a global community, we need to act fast and embrace No Deforestation solutions. Organisations must continue to develop rights-based conservation and land-use practices to conserve tropical forests. Progress is being made – as of November 2021, 645,000 hectares of forests have been identified and protected for conservation under HCSA, estimated to hold over 52.3 million tonnes of carbon. But there is capacity and need to deliver much, much more.

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has given its starkest warnings yet on the irreversible impacts of global warming, not only about what could happen, but what’s already been set in motion. Yet even though the planet is on track to warm between 2-3 degrees Celsius this century, there is still time for this catastrophic failure of climate leadership to be reversed.

The IPCC report gives us about a decade to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions to avoid global climate collapse. The next ten years gives commodity companies, supply chains and brands the last opportunity to systematically adopt, champion and deliver Zero Deforestation on the ground.


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