Chasing Net Zero

A crucial climate crisis statement was signed by countries all over the world to save forests over the next decade. Is it possible for them to pull it off?

Our Planet has lost a third of its forest since the last ice age, and deforestation and forest degradation are still responsible for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, a new vow announced last month at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow seeks to improve this grim picture. Signed by important forest nations, the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use seeks to decrease deforestation to zero by 2030. The declaration has sparked expectations that the globe would witness a renewed push to stop deforestation’s terrible effects.

“It would be a tremendous success if we could bring deforestation to zero,” says Simon Lewis, a global change science researcher at the University of Leeds and University College London. “Both in terms of carbon […] and biodiversity and conservation, because tropical forests are home to two-thirds of the world’s species.”

However, the vow comes with severe limitations, such as the fact that such pronouncements have been made before—often to little result.


What is the Purpose of the New Pledge?

It was revealed in early November at COP and signed by 141 countries (about 72 percent of the world’s population), including Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, three of the four countries with the largest tropical forest in 2020.

The nations have pledged to “act together to prevent and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030,” as well as to “provide sustainable development and promote inclusive rural transformation.” Importantly, unlike many other commitments, it does not limit this to “illegal” deforestation, implying that it is seeking to include all deforestation, not simply logging or land removal in violation of local laws.

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The plan is backed by $12 billion in government funding and $7.2 billion in private capital. $1.7 billion will be used to assist indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ land rights, as well as their duties as forest defenders.

However, Lewis claims that there is still some confusion regarding whether the vow implies “zero” or “net zero” deforestation. There would be no loss of old growth trees wherever if there was no deforestation. However, because of net zero deforestation, old growth forests could still be removed if new forests were planted at the same pace. Lewis notes, “The former is far better for carbon, and also much better for biodiversity.”


What Effect Might It Have?

It’s difficult to overestimate the effect of eliminating deforestation on everything from climate change and water security to wildlife and indigenous populations’ well-being.

According to a World Resources Institute (WRI) estimate, stopping forest loss by 2030 in all pledge signatory nations would save 33 million hectares of forest, nearly the size of Malaysia. It would also save 19 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e), about double China’s yearly emissions.

“It would be a significant contribution to the overall reduction of emissions,” says Adriana Ramos, coordinator of politics and law at Brazil’s Instituto Socioambiental (ISA). “When Brazil, for example, cut emissions from deforestation, it was the world’s largest drop in emissions.” Reduced deforestation is the cheapest and, in my opinion, nearly the easiest approach to reduce emissions.”

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