Nature and forests appeared prominently in the final text of the Glasgow Climate Pact at the end of the UN climate conference, COP26.
But radical change is needed and we need to build on momentum ahead of COP27, despite challenges such as the ongoing impact of COVID.
Partnerships between the public and private sectors will be required to ensure solutions are sustainable.
COP26 took place more than four months ago. Despite some negative headlines, there was much to celebrate, particularly for the forest agenda. But it is critical that we now build on that momentum with tangible progress ahead of COP27 in Egypt, setting the tone for this crucial decade of implementation.
The current situation is paradoxical. On the one hand, the science has never been clearer: we are past the 11th hour of avoiding serious consequences from the intertwined crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. Yet outside the environment bubble, broader society is not behind the deeper changes required to address these crises.
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Most of us have shorter-term priorities, particularly set against the backdrop of a new war in Europe, the long tail of COVID-19 or the pressing development challenges such as access to clean water and sanitation that are faced, on a daily basis, by so many in the Global South. Plus, political leaders around the world are not elected on platforms that commit them to the radical change required.
On the other hand, however, there is real momentum and energy from the private sector to accelerate change – although this is not universal and, of course, still not enough in isolation.
Real progress made on climate change
It has been more than three years since I joined the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) at the World Economic Forum. There is now greater understanding within both the public and private sectors about what is required to reduce biome conversion in critical tropical forest geographies.
There are instances of real progress. For example, deforestation in Indonesia linked to palm oil has dropped significantly through a combination of government action and corporate leadership. Risks persist, as do tensions with Indonesia, as stakeholders in the Global North have failed to reward the country for its progress.
Stakeholders in the north continue to underestimate the strategic importance of the palm oil sector to the country – it employs more than 20 million people directly and indirectly and is one of the country’s most valuable exports. There are similar tensions in each of the forested countries across the tropics.
People need to be central to solutions
I would specify three observations from our own work at TFA. Firstly, progress will remain limited until we bring economic development and dignity for millions of people in the Global South into the very centre of the discussion.
Data in the most recent TFA report highlights the need for systemic solutions that are designed to improve rural livelihoods and boost food production, while at the same time keeping forests standing.
Many of the tropical forest country producers are deeply affected by food insecurity, let alone the worry about their families’ long-term future. Unless we understand this – rather than trying to impose norms from the Global North – the accusations of post-colonialism will only increase and solutions will remain distant.