Not enough progress on forest conservation

View of Tatama National Park, Colombia. Photo: Shutterstock

Achieving the goals of the New York Declaration on Forests will require a paradigm shift in forest use. These are the findings of a recent progress assessment.

The unique ecosystems of tropical forests are threatened by infrastructure development and extractive industries. To date, progress in efforts to protect still-intact forests is being made far too slowly. These are the conclusions of the Progress on the New York Declaration on Forests report published in November. 

The ‘New York Declaration on Forests’

The ‘New York Declaration on Forests’ (NYDF) is a unique international declaration to take action to halt global deforestation and introduce measures for forest restoration. The Declaration is voluntary and non-binding on endorsing nations. More than 200 governments, multinational companies, indigenous groups and non-governmental organisations now support the NYDF and have committed themselves to take action to achieve its ambitious goals. 
Each year, the NYDF Progress Assessment monitors collective progress towards the NYDF goals. The Progress Assessment is conducted by an independent civil society network of research organisations and think tanks. 

Paradigm shift needed by 2030

This year’s Progress Assessment focuses on the implementation of two goals: Goal 3 (reducing deforestation from infrastructure and extractive developments) and Goal 4 (highlight alternative, sustainable usage practices for the local population that alleviate poverty). 

Large-scale projects for transport and energy infrastructure, resource extraction and urbanisation are posing a rising threat to tropical forests. The report describes a growing trend whereby mining and infrastructure projects are neglecting to focus on alleviating poverty or ensuring sustainable development – with serious consequences for the global climate, biodiversity and social structures. 

According to the report authors, governments often grapple with implementing existing forest policies and the forest protection measures anchored within them due to a lack of implementation strategies, capacities and political stability. All too often, the political imbalance between the various government agencies allows vested interests to influence land use and the corresponding regulatory frameworks to their advantage. 

While a series of initiatives to link investments with sustainable criteria has already been established among international financial institutions and donors, the report points to a lack of information about the impacts of these investments on forests. While businesses within the commodities sector are increasingly aware of their impact on forests, transparency in terms of their activities still remains very limited. Only 23 of a total of 225 companies surveyed disclosed information about the impacts of their investments on forests in 2019 and 2020. 

The role played by Germany and other advanced economies

Especially in the Global North, economic systems continue to rely on commodities produced in developing and emerging economies, and their production practices are often linked with deforestation. In the authors’ opinion, governments, businesses and consumers alike must take greater responsibility for the ecological and social aspects of their production and their consumption.

The EU is also facing up to the challenges represented by the progressive loss of primary forests. In July 2019, the EU Commission published the EU Communication ‘Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests’, which proposes various demand-side measures to address deforestation and forest degradation as well as the restoration of forests in connection with the EU-wide consumption of agricultural and forestry products. 

Key messages from the NYDF Progress Assessment

The key messages from the Assessment are sobering: the first goal of the NYDF, to halve the rate of loss of natural forests globally by 2020, will not now be met. Progress has also been slow towards achieving goals 3 and 4 of the NYDF. Accordingly, efforts to reduce deforestation by infrastructure and natural resource extraction while simultaneously promoting sustainable livelihoods are not proceeding fast enough. 

Without a fundamental change to international development strategies coupled with a coherent environmental policy addressing forest protection, the global community will be unable to achieve its ambitious goals for sustainable development, climate change mitigation and forest conservation by 2030. 

IKI projects support the goals of the NYDF

The NYDF was endorsed in September 2014 during the United Nations Climate Summit in New York. The shared understanding underpinning the Declaration is that halting deforestation is urgently needed in order to 

  • keep global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels; 
  • counter the global biodiversity loss; and to 
  • pursue common sustainable development goals. 

The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and International Climate Initiative (IKI) support the NYDF Global Platform. To ensure the conservation of natural forests around the world that are rich in biodiversity, for example, IKI is promoting sustainable forms of use – especially in agriculture – and identifying the causes of deforestation. This works by protecting these unique ecosystems and nurturing natural carbon sinks. 

Another approach taken by IKI is to support the development and expansion of regional and national infrastructures for implementing forest protection measures, and provide information about the development of national strategies. At the international level, IKI projects are also addressing the relevance of stable and adequate climate finance, and are stimulating greater private engagement in this area. 

Such projects improve collaboration among stakeholders to more effectively implement forest-related climate finance and achieve NYDF goals better.

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