Global fight to stop deforestation is failing on many fronts, finds WWF report

International efforts to stem forest loss and achieve the goal of ‘zero net deforestation’ are lagging well behind target, with only Colombia, Ecuador and Peru having set targets to succeed by 2020. Of the 14nations included in a new study, by WWF and think-tank Climate Advisers, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and The Democratic Republic of the Congo have targeted ‘zero net deforestation’ (ZND) by 2030.

This lack of progress could have serious implications for sustainable development, biodiversity and the fight to avoid dangerous climate change. Achieving ZND by 2020 in these fourteen countries alone could save 3 gigatonnes in annual carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 – more than the annual emissions of Germany and India combined.

In total, the targets of the 14 countries combined would reduce annual forest loss in the tropics by an area the size of Belgium in 2020. But this is still just a 30% cut on the total expected loss across all deforesting tropical countries.  And up to 95% of these reductions could be conditional on international finance – from wealthier governments or the private sector.

WWF-UK’s chief adviser on Forests, Will Ashley-Cantello, said: “Today, negotiators at the Bonn climate discussions are discussing action to tackle deforestation. The message to them is clear: up your game.

“The New York Declaration on Forests gave hope to a zero deforestation future. But it remains a voluntary agreement signed by only 36 countries. There is no pretending that ending deforestation will be easy. But that is all the more reason for big commitments and big incentives from governments and business alike.

“Few forest nations have set clear targets on forest loss or emissions, and fewer still aim for zero. And the financial support on the table is paltry – roughly equating to a mere twenty two cents per tonne of CO2 emissions that would be saved under the declaration. People pay more for a litre of petrol.”

The report assesses pledges made by 14 countries – Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ecuador, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mozambique, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Paraguay, Peru and Tanzania – in which over half of projected tropical forest loss is expected to take place.  Each country affects one or more of the 11 global ‘deforestation fronts’ – areas at particular risk of serious loss of forest habitats – identified by WWF this year.

It assesses their commitments against two targets: the goal of Zero Net Deforestation and Degradation by 2020, as advocated by WWF (ZND-2020); and a slower trajectory of halving the rate of natural forest loss by 2020 and eliminating it by 2030 (ZND-2030). The latter is based on the New York Declaration on Forests made in September 2014.

Stated ambition varies wildly. Between them, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, are committed to a cumulative 1.1 million hectares of restoration effort by 2020 beyond even reaching net zero.  While Malaysia has a target that allows for significant further progress.  Brazil has demonstrated remarkable success in being  ahead of its national targets – by reducing deforestation by 70% between 2004 and 2013 – which suggests both an opportunity to update its future targets to meet ZND and that this can be consistent with strong economic development.  Other countries have not stated national targets to date – for example Tanzania or Mozambique, for whom development needs and pressures present difficult trade-offs with conserving forest cover.

Finance pledged by developed countries to date has been insufficient to match the goals the international community is seeking to achieve. Some developed countries have provided recent leadership in signalling long-term support – notably Germany, Norway and the UK. Together with the US and Japan, these countries account for 75% of all international pledges of REDD+ finance –funding to reward reductions in emissions from forest loss or degradation – to date.

Businesses have a big role to play too. This study found that company pledges to deforestation-free supply chains of palm oil, soy and beef could match and outstretch the ambition of Government targets if they are delivered in full.

In the lead up to the Paris climate summit this year, WWF is calling for national action plans to include clear targets on deforestation and the establishment of international partnerships to achieve zero net deforestation.

Tropical forest loss is responsible for 16-19% of the total annual global greenhouse gas emissions, while forest growth offsets about 8-11% of total anthropogenic emissions  – so their influence on the future of our global climate is enormous.