World leaders gathered at the COP26 climate summit have reached an agreement to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030.

The deal, which will be announced on Tuesday, has been signed by more than 100 leaders and includes a pledge of US$19.2-billion in public and private funding to help developing nations restore degraded land. Countries including Canada, Russia, Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have endorsed what is being called the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use.

The pledge also includes a new US$1.5-billion fund to protect the Congo Basin, which is home to the second-largest tropical rainforest in the world. The area has been under threat from logging, mining and agriculture.

Chief executives representing more than 30 financial institutions will also commit to ending investment in activities linked to deforestation.

Forests absorb around one-third of global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels annually. But environmentalists say a forest area the size of roughly 27 soccer fields is cut down every minute.

“These great teeming ecosystems – these cathedrals of nature – are the lungs of our planet,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tell the conference. “With today’s unprecedented pledges, we will have a chance to end humanity’s long history as nature’s conqueror, and instead become its custodian.”

Governments of 28 countries, representing 75 per cent of the the global trade in palm oil, cocoa and soya, have also agreed to a set of actions to reduce deforestation and provide support to farmers.

“Now we must all work in partnership with businesses, the finance sector, smallholder farmers, Indigenous peoples and local communities to create the conditions for forest-positive economies to grow and thrive,” said Iván Duque, the President of Colombia.

Environmental groups and analysts have greeted the agreements with caution. They pointed out that previous pledges to save forests have failed to stop massive destruction.

“World leaders first set a 2030 goal to end deforestation in New York in 2014, but since then deforestation has accelerated across many countries,” said Alison Hoare, a forest policy expert at Chatham House. “This new pledge recognizes the range of actions needed to protect our forests, including finance, support for rural livelihoods, and strong trade policies. For it to succeed, inclusive processes and equitable legal frameworks will be needed, and governments must work with civil society, businesses and indigenous peoples to agree, monitor and implement them.”

Tuntiak Katan, from the Coordination of Indigenous Communities of the Amazon Basin, welcomed the agreement and told the BBC on Tuesday that indigenous communities were on the frontline of stopping deforestation. “For years we have protected our way of life and that has protected ecosystems and forests. Without us, no money or policy can stop climate change,” he said.

The Globe and Mail, November 2, 2021