GLASGOW, UK – A new commitment to halt deforestation and land degradation is a welcome step as forests gradually disappear, but it should be followed by urgent implementation of commitments and policies focused on protection and restoration, environmentalists said.
In the first week of the COP26 climate talks, more than 140 countries, including the Philippines, signed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use, pledging to stop and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.
Glasgow’s engagement was not the first of its kind. In 2014, a similar commitment was made under the New York Declaration on Forests. The engagement, however, failed.
But for environmentalists, the Glasgow declaration gave some hope.
“I won’t say this is a game-changer, but it’s better than previous statements,” said Jose Andres Canivel, executive director of the Forest Foundation Philippines.
Under the Glasgow Declaration, 12 countries will provide $ 12 billion in public funding for the protection, restoration and sustainable management of forests. Private sector investors will provide $ 7.2 billion.
The signatories also pledged to empower local communities, develop profitable and sustainable agriculture and recognize the multiple values of forests while recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.
“We had a great day in Glasgow. But we have to turn all these promises and commitments, these political speeches into concrete actions, and it is urgent, ”said Josefina Braña Varela, vice president of forests and forest climate solutions at World Wildlife Fund-US, said Philstar.com on the sidelines of COP26.
Local declaration required
Forests absorb about a third of the global warming carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels each year. Forests also provide food and livelihoods, clean air and water, and are important habitat for wildlife and indigenous peoples.
But the world loses around 10 million hectares of forests every year.
The Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources is committed to supporting the commitments made during the climate conference.
“The DENR will be at the forefront of ensuring that lush green forest covers are replenished to ensure adequate carbon sequestration to meet the country’s contributions to support the Paris Agreement goal,” said DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu in a press release.
For the Glasgow engagement to work, the Philippine government needs to develop a local statement that will support it, said WWF-Philippines Forests for Water program manager Paolo Pagaduan.
“A policy document in support of the COP26 deforestation pledge that stops all deforestation in the country would be a monumental achievement for the Philippines. In it, we need to articulate what we mean by stopping deforestation and how to get there by 2030, ”Pagaduan said.
He added that in a country where forests are cleared for agricultural activities or development projects, there is a need to properly balance environmental protection and economic interests in land use policies.
Data from DENR’s Forest Management Bureau showed that the Philippines, one of the most deforested countries in the tropics, had just over 7 million hectares of forest in 2015. Ninety percent of the archipelago was supposed to be covered with forests in the 16th century.
“It comes down to land because forests will not thrive fully and will not be able to provide all of their benefits for nature, biodiversity and climate in the same space as agricultural fields, real estate or land. other infrastructure developments, ”Pagaduan said.
Cannivel stressed that governments must focus on protecting and restoring forests for the Glasgow Declaration to succeed where others have failed.
The Glasgow Commitment does not specify how countries meet the target and does not define what forests are, whether they are only natural forests or plantations.
“We just need to align our policies to support protection and restoration rather than conversion to plantation and other uses through the participation of communities of indigenous peoples,” he said.
More than half of the planet’s land is collectively owned by indigenous peoples and local communities, and numerous studies have documented the contributions of indigenous communities to the conservation of the areas they inhabit.
Cannivel also called on local government units to develop long-term restoration plans that will support the vision of communities on the ground and invest in building local capacity.
He added that the Philippine government’s community-based forest management program, which promotes reforestation and sustainable management of forests and their resources, needs to be “changed a little”. The strategy has been criticized for its lack of proper implementation and the lack of coordination among government agencies, which are necessary for its success.
“If we do this, we will empower local communities to play a greater role in forest management. At the same time, it will be context-driven and objective-driven, unlike national programs which have objectives, ”he said.
No time to waste
For Louise del Castillo, a forestry student at the University of the Philippines Los Baños chosen to attend COP26, the promise to stop deforestation is a “big step”.
“I hope it won’t be lip service because we are seeing the destructive impacts of climate change. Many of us are affected,” said del Castillo, adding that government agencies, local stakeholders , the private sector and even consumers should be working. together to keep this commitment.
WWF’s Varela said the commitment must be followed by urgent implementation.
“We cannot afford to waste any more time, so we really have to move forward to channel these commitments, materialize them and turn them into concrete actions,” Varela said.
“We are in the midst of a climate and natural emergency. We have no more time to waste.”
This story was produced as part of the 2021 media partnership on climate change, a journalism scholarship organized by the Earth Journalism Network of Internews and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.