COP27 an important step forward for reporting transparency on forest-related commitments but pace of action must accelerate
By Josefina Braña Varela, Vice President and Deputy Lead, Forests, WWF-US, and Brittany Williams, Senior Program Officer, Policy, Forests and Climate, WWF-US
The UN climate change conference, COP27, takes place amid a backdrop of economic instability, food insecurity, energy crises, and natural disasters, all exacerbated by climate change and the destruction of nature. We know too well the world cannot reach the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — nor reverse biodiversity loss — without halting deforestation, preserving existing forests, and restoring degraded forests. Unfortunately, we have yet to see the scale of action needed to meet the urgency of the crisis.
At COP26, more than 140 countries pledged to halt and reverse forest and land degradation by 2030 in the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use (GLD). In addition, 12 countries allocated $12 billion between 2021–2025 through the Global Forest Finance Pledge, and a public-private coalition designated an additional $1.7 billion to support Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Despite these commitments, over the past year, decreases in global deforestation were moderate at best, and the world is far from reaching the 2030 GLD target.
Donor countries need to advance action and begin implementing their commitments. This entails disbursing promised climate funding; partnering with the private sector, civil society and local people to break down silos; undertaking community-led, high-impact and high-quality nature-based solutions, particularly at landscape and jurisdictional scales; and advancing national-level policies, like those in the European Union, to prevent imported commodity-driven deforestation and conversion.
Some initial steps taken during the first week of COP27 include the inaugural summit as well as the ministerial meeting of the Forest & Climate Leaders’ Partnership (FCLP) by governments that signed the GLD. The FCLP aims to maintain and expand high-level political leadership on forests, land use and climate; collaborate on implementing solutions to reduce forest loss, increase restoration, and support sustainable development; and ensure accountability for pledges made to reach the 2030 GLD target. It will work with existing initiatives and efforts to further ambition in six action areas focused on supply chains, finance for implementation, private finance, support for Indigenous Peoples and local communities, carbon markets, and high-integrity forests.
Some key highlights of the inaugural summit include the promising renewals of political will and forested countries’ proposals for future collaboration. Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro reiterated his government’s call to create a bloc of Amazon countries to protect their forests. This could help the campaign to protect 80% of the Amazon by 2025 if Indigenous Peoples and local communities are fully consulted and involved in design and implementation. Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre also announced that his country will reinstate the Amazon Fund, presumably as a result of the recent election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil. President-elect Lula has promised a goal of zero deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon during his presidency, and several heads of state commended his dedication to forests in their remarks.
Signatories to the Global Forest Finance Pledge, the Congo Basin Joint Donor Statement, and the Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Forest Tenure Pledge, as well as funders of the Great Green Wall Accelerator, announced each initiative’s progress disbursing funds over the last year, with total dispersals ranging from 18% to 33%. In addition, Germany committed another €1 billion to forests through 2025, while private funders pledged another $3.6 billion.
The FCLP should be seen as an important and welcome development toward greater transparency, as we saw GLD and other Glasgow pledge signatories report on the progress made against their commitments from last year. Reporting and transparency in climate and conservation finance are key, as they allow us to understand, as a community, where the shortfalls to disburse funds are so that they can be addressed. They allow us to take stock of progress, including confirming which pledges are new and additional, and come together to resolve challenges.
But while the FCLP is a good step forward in terms of increasing transparency and levels of commitment, the pledged funds in Glasgow and Sharm el-Sheikh still fall far short of the finance necessary to keep forests standing. The Forest Declaration Assessment estimates that forest funding will need to increase 200 times to meet the global goals of halting and reversing deforestation by 2030, and Indigenous peoples and local communities, despite being the most effective guardians of forests, receive far less funding than what is required to secure their tenure rights and preserve intact forest ecosystems. These announcements also demonstrate the continuing gap in finance needed to implement forest conservation activities, particularly from private sources.
We cannot sit back and hope for the best. We must accelerate the pace of action — for the future of people, nature and our climate. Our planet depends on it.