How can we save the world’s forests?

The crucial role of forests in tackling climate change is high on the agenda this week at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.Conserving the world’s forests is critical to climate change mitigation. While forests absorb carbon dioxide, when cleared or degraded they become a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Aerial view of the northern Canadian forest Canada
Aerial view of the northern Canadian forest Canada

Over 13 million hectares of forests are still being cleared each year. That’s an area around three times the size of Switzerland. This destruction is contributing up to 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and threatens our common future.

With a global climate agreement scheduled to be finalised at the Paris Climate Conference at the end of the year, keeping up the momentum on forest conservation is essential. We also need to maintain and build upon the progress made last year, including at the UN Climate Summit in New York hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in September, in the COP 20 “Lima Call to Action,” and through the deforestation-free supply chain commitments made by many corporations.

I was proud to be involved in the Climate Summit’s forests action area, which UNDP facilitated and which saw the launch of the New York Declaration on Forests (PDF). This process has forged an unprecedented partnership of governments, businesses, civil society organisations, and indigenous peoples pledging to halve forest loss by 2020 and end it by 2030.

Addressing deforestation promises multiple wins – for the climate, for inclusive development and growth, and for smallholder farmers and indigenous peoples – but only if we all act together now.

Last year, participants at the Davos session on forests focused on advancing deforestation-free supply chains. It’s no coincidence that 2014 then saw the proportion of the global palm oil trade covered by ‘deforestation-free’ commitments grow to over ninety per cent – a huge accomplishment.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Unilever CEO Paul Polman, and Abdon Nababan, Secretary-General, Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of Indonesia (AMAN) are among those attending the WEF this week. I hope discussion will focus on how ‘deforestation-free’ commitments might be expanded to cover more agricultural commodities and new companies, and examine how to ensure benefit for smallholder farmers and indigenous peoples from the implementation of deforestation-free supply chain commitments.

I hope that the private sector will build and expand on the significant commitments already made to achieve these supply chains. Governments and the international community must also commit to playing their various roles, including by development partners committing to deliver adequate, sustainable, and predictable financing for climate change and low carbon development.


About the author
Helen Clark is the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and the former Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Follow Helen on Twitter:@HelenClarkUNDP

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