To Curb Climate Change, We Must Focus on Forests, Food and Land
By Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, leader of WWF’s global climate and energy practice.

© Mauri Rautkari / WWF

Scientific studies estimate that we can achieve up to 30% of the climate change goals set by the Paris climate agreement by improving the ways we use land to produce food, fiber and fuel. Yet land-oriented solutions receive only 3% of climate funding.

This gap inspired the 30X30 Forests, Food and Land Challenge. As part of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, WWF and a broad coalition of public and private organizations are calling on businesses, states, city and local governments, and global citizens to take action for better forest and habitat conservation, food production and consumption, and land use, working together across all sectors of the economy to deliver up to 30% of the climate solutions needed by 2030.

Ranchers, farmers, foresters and other land caretakers are in the best position to help, but they face unique challenges such as financial and food insecurity. Lax regulation allows many smallholder producers to rely on deforestation and habitat conversion to produce cattle, soy, palm oil, paper, pulp and other commodities. Demand from processors, traders, retailers and consumers perpetuates this cycle.

New enabling conditions are needed to meet the needs of rural communities and Indigenous Peoples while promoting better conservation and production practices. Businesses and governments must collaborate to push effective policies that conserve natural habitats and rehabilitate degraded lands while creating incentive for investment in continuous improvement.

Consumers have a role to play by choosing sustainably produced food, clothing, and other consumer goods. Especially in the developed world, we can make the biggest impact by reducing overconsumption and food waste. About a third of the food we produce is lost or wasted, representing a waste of 14 million square kilometers of land and 4.4 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year. If we stop over consuming high-impact foods — from animal protein to sugars to processed foods — we can reduce the pressure their production puts on forests, grasslands and other ecosystems.

This week, thousands of people are participating in the Global Climate Action Summit, with thousands more joining virtually around the world.The event has welcomed bold new commitments from the forest, food and land sector that will drive momentum to meet Paris Agreement targets.

For example:

  • Through the Pacific Coast Collaborative, states and cities on the United States’ West Coast committed to reduce food loss and waste by 50% by 2030, a commitment with the potential to reduce 25 million tons of GHG emissions per year from the often-overlooked food sector.
  • Walmart announced the development of a platform that will help its suppliers engage with local leaders in different jurisdictions to stop deforestation and reduce carbon emissions in their supply chain. As an example of how the platform will work, Unilever is committing to support better production and forest protection efforts in Sabah, Malaysia, where palm oil is driving deforestation.
  • The Global Environment Facility announced half a billion US dollars in funding to drive improved land use and forest conservation.
  • Investors with $5.6 trillion USD in assets have joined a coalition supporting conservation of the Brazil’s Cerrado, the world’s most biodiverse savannah. Representing more than 100 food and financial companies, the coalition is now the largest business group focused on protecting the Cerrado, which has lost about half of its native forests and grasslands, largely for the production of cattle and soy. Organized by FAIRR, the investors joining the coalition include APG, Legal and General Investment Management, and Green Century Capital Management.

The Global Climate Action Summit will soon conclude but the work will continue. When nearly every nation in the world agreed to reduce carbon emissions in Paris in 2015, they also acknowledged that their targets would still not be enough to keep the planet from warming past 1.5oC. By 2020, they agreed, they would come back together and set goals that are sufficiently ambitious.

With two years to go, the progress and commitments unveiled at the summit will provide governments at every level, the private sector, and civil society with the momentum we all need to keep our planet livable.