Deforestation Should Be at Heart of Climate Discussion, Says NGO Panel

By Arleen Richards, Epoch Times
September 23, 2015 9:56 pm Last Updated: September 24, 2015 8:53 pm

NEW YORK—Ensuring deforestation is given a proper place in global climate discussions is an ongoing goal of the drivers behind the New York Declaration of Forests that was formalized at last year’s U.N. Climate Summit. 

The Declaration—which codifies the willingness of 180 governments, companies, indigenous community networks and civil society organizations to halve natural forest loss by 2020 and end it by 2030—was a major accomplishment in 2014 and will be on the agenda again at this year’s U.N. Sustainable Development Summit on Sept. 25.

A panel discussion was held on Sept. 23 in preparation for those talks, to review the accomplishments over the last year towards achieving the goal of ending deforestation for commercial agriculture and developing more sustainable practices for the businesses that rely on land. The companies that signed on agreed to reduce the environmental and high carbon impact of several key commercial agricultural products such as palm oil, timber, cattle, and soy.

Deforestation is the second leading contributor to carbon emissions after the burning of fossil fuels, according to the Nature Conservancy, a conservation organization committed to land and water. Forests protect soil from erosion, produce oxygen, store carbon dioxide, and help control climate. When trees are cut down, the carbon dioxide is released into the air.

Over 60 million hectares (about 232,000 sq miles) of tropical forest have been converted to agriculture since 2000, according to Supply Change.

Referring to this week’s Development Summit, which has a broader focus than just climate issues, Eduardo Goncalves, International Communications Director for The Climate Group, talked about the importance of keeping forests on the agenda.

“Climate really seems to be at the heart of the discussion and it’s absolutely right that forestry is a key element of that debate as well,” he said in opening remarks to kick off the panel. 

Over 60 million hectares (about 232,000 sq miles) of tropical forest have been converted to agriculture since 2000, according to Supply Change, which is tracking progress on the Declaration. 

Panelists discussed the tremendous effort that has gone into getting the issue of deforestation on the climate agenda and the importance for the private sector to buy-in to the ambitions of the Declaration.

Stephen Donofrio, with Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace, in giving a progress report noted that just under 20 percent of the company endorsers are based in Southeast Asia; manufacturers and retailers who are receiving the most consumer scrutiny are mainly in North America; and food product sector makes up one-third of endorser companies.

Donofrio said that if a company is really committed to signing on it needs to incorporate that into its own corporate documentation, and in 92 percent of the companies they tracked, they are doing just that.  

In order for the vision of the Declaration to work, Dominic Waughray, member of the executive committee of the World Economic Forum, praised the efforts of all participants, but noted that this is “a governmental issue” because as he said, they are the “stewards in the resource space.”

He said governments have to change the way they think about forests. “The forest is a endowment which isn’t just an economic resource that can be turned into a product and sold somewhere else to make the economy work.” He urged governments to take a more long term approach and manage the natural resources in a sustainable way that would attract more and more investment and be very profitable for the poorest countries.

He sees the joint efforts of the declaration commitments as creating a leadership role for those countries that have a forest endowment to deliver on sustainable goals to their economies and create jobs for the people

“That’s the journey we’re going down with this. That’s the road to Paris,” he said referring to the World Climate Summit in December.