No end in sight for deforestation, as national goals and funding fall short

A photo from Aug 5, 2010 shows a logged area in the mountains of Jambi province in Indonesia's Sumatra island. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR (THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION) - Countries are spending only a fraction of the nearly US$500 billion (S$677 billion) needed each year to stop tree loss and restore forests worldwide to help meet climate and nature goals, researchers warned on Tuesday (Oct 12).

An annual report on the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests - backed by more than 200 countries, firms and green groups - found the sustained reductions in forest loss needed to meet its 2030 target to end deforestation are highly unlikely near-term.

This year's report focused on finance and forestry in national climate action plans submitted for the 2015 Paris climate agreement, finding that many governments have yet to set specific forest protection goals under that pact.

The progress report by 28 civil society and research groups also found that, since 2010, countries have invested only between 0.5 per cent and 5 per cent of the estimated US$460 billion per year needed to conserve, manage and revive the planet's forests.

Michael Allen Brady of the Center for International Forestry Research, which contributed to the report, said current funding was "only a drop in the bucket of what we need".

"By ramping up investments in forest protection and sustainable management, the world could reduce emissions while securing clean air, water, fibre, food, livelihoods and biodiversity," the scientist added in a statement.

Cutting down forests has major implications for global goals to curb climate change, as trees absorb about a third of carbon emissions, which they release if they rot or are burned.

In 2020, tropical forest losses around the world equalled the size of the Netherlands, according to monitoring service Global Forest Watch.

Under the Paris Agreement, about 195 countries agreed to limit the rise in global average temperatures this century to"well below" 2 degrees Celsius and ideally to 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels.

Researchers analysed the national goals set for that agreement by 32 countries with the most potential to reduce carbon emissions through halting deforestation, improving forest management and planting new trees - including Brazil, Indonesia, Russia, China and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The report found ambition was low, with only 10 nations having set quantitative targets, while about a quarter of the total said their targets could only be met if they received international financial support.

"What we can see from these national climate plans is that the ambition falls short of the potential," said the report's lead author Franziska Haupt, a managing partner at advisory firm Climate Focus.

Besides boosting funding, wealthy commodity-consuming countries should partner with developing nations to tackle deforestation and introduce legislation to clean up their supply chains, Haupt told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

She also called for public subsidies to be diverted away from activities that contribute to deforestation, such as commercial agriculture and fossil fuels, and into greener projects that empower indigenous and local communities.

A photo from Aug 29, 2019 shows deforestation in the Amazon basin in Brazil. PHOTO: AFP

The report did praise efforts to tackle deforestation in some countries, such as Vietnam's streamlined land-use planning and regulation, and bans on illegal timber trading and clearing of old-growth forests in Laos and Indonesia.

In a separate report published in the journal Global Change Biology on Tuesday, researchers identified the lowest-cost solutions involving land that countries could adopt to cut planet-heating emissions and meet their climate pledges.

Roughly half of those cost-effective emissions reductions would come from protecting, restoring and improving management of forests and other ecosystems, such as mangroves and peatlands, they found.

Changes to farming practices, switching consumer diets to more sustainable and healthy foods, and reducing food waste could also play a major part, the study added.

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