Full news list
See our full news list.
COP26 deforestation pledge: Agreement is history repeating but could lead to significant progress this time around
By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Tuesday, 2 November 2021
University of Sussex experts have been responding to the announcement from COP26 that more than 100 world leaders have promised to end and reverse deforestation by 2030.
The countries who have signed the pledge - including Canada, Brazil, Russia, China, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the US and the UK (the full list is here) - cover around 85% of the world's forests.
The pledge includes almost £14bn ($19.2bn) of public and private funds.
Responding to the news, Dr Anthony Alexander and Dr Joanna Smallwood from the University of Sussex, co-authors of a recently published study into sustainable food production and consumption that addresses the threat of deforestation, say the declaration is welcome and includes important signatories such as China and Indonesia as well as pointing to the Sustainable Development Goals.
The experts call for the pledge to be backed up with requirements for companies to transparently and publicly declare the environmental impact in their operations and supply chains, and highlight the need for governments to set methods similar to accountancy standards to enable them to do so.
Dr Anthony Alexander, Lecturer in Operations Management at the University of Sussex Business School, said: "The support of countries with significant tropical forests, such as Indonesia, Congo and Peru and those with major buying power, including China, is welcome and suggests better management of forest frontier areas and a potential for global markets to move away from accepting products grown from deforested land.
“Currently, if markets such as the UK, EU or USA seek to restrict products grown on deforested land, producers can still sell those products elsewhere. If the declaration leads to a universal trend to constrain production from deforested land, that is significant.
"The declaration may feel like a deja vu moment as a similar pledge, the United Nations New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF), was endorsed in 2014 to halt deforestation by 2030.
"Many businesses promised to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains but doing so has been challenging. Companies did not realise how little visibility they had over their upstream supply chains, especially for commodities such are blended from multiple locations before being exported. This makes traceability difficult. However, methods are improving, so declarations can help lead to changes in how these supply chains operate.
"A major challenge is that as the world population has grown, food demand has risen, and so governments have seen conversion of forest land to agriculture as a valid way to raise revenue and meet demand. Cutting deforestation therefore can be considered alongside the need to provide better diets for all, tackling both hunger and over-consumption.
"The UN Sustainable Development Goals provide a framework for balancing this wide range of issues, and businesses, governments and NGOs can support these by taking a strategic view of how best to meet these various competing demands of human welfare and environmental protection."
Dr Joanna Smallwood, Lecturer in Law at the University of Sussex, said: "A key challenge for governments will be how to approach forest protection and to balance conservation objectives with the needs of local communities to make a living. There is no easy answer.
"One option for countries is to designate more forest as formally protected areas, and then defend them from exploitation.
"Unless protected areas are enforced, it is not very meaningful, but such initiatives to halt deforestation happen alongside addressing the needs of the rural poor.
"In some countries, protected areas have been criticised as a system of 'fortress conservation' failing to account for the needs of local people.
"More inclusive approaches to ensure local people are not pushed out of forests and can play an active role in supporting forest conservation are important.
“Key actions needed to deliver on the pledge to halt deforestation include strengthening transparency and accountability mechanisms for non-state actors. For example, requiring companies to declare their exposure to 'forest risk commodities' in their supply chains (such as soy, palm, or beef) and related carbon footprint is one policy.
"Another is reforming international corporate reporting to include environmental social governance standards, to show how sustainable a company is, in ways that are independently auditable. Being able to account for the impact that international business has on the environment, such as deforestation, would be a significant means to achieve these goals."