‘The World Is Failing Forests’: Report Finds Leaders Way Off Track From Halting Deforestation by 2030
"We are investing in activities that are harmful for forests at far higher rates than we are investing in activities that are beneficial for forests," the assessment coordinator said.
Despite promising to halt global deforestation by 2030, world leaders have not done enough to protect forests, a new report has found.
The 2023 Forest Declaration Assessment, released late Monday, calculated that human activities destroyed 6.6 million hectares of forest in 2022, which means the world is 21% off track from meeting the 2030 deadline. In addition, 4.1 million hectares of especially vital primary tropical forests were cleared, 33% off where they need to be to stay on schedule.
"The world is failing forests with devastating consequences on a global scale," WWF Global Forests Lead Fran Price said in a statement. "It is impossible to reverse nature loss, address the climate crisis, and develop sustainable economies without forests."
The Forest Declaration Assessment has been published by a group of civil society organizations every year since 2015. Beginning last year, it started tracking the progress of governments towards the 2021 Glasgow Leaders' Declaration on Forests and Land Use, under which more than 100 nations attending the COP26 U.N. climate conference promised to "halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030."
"That 2030 goal is not just nice to have; it's essential for maintaining a livable climate for humanity," Erin Matson, senior consultant at Climate Focus and coordinator for the Forest Declaration Assessment, said during a press briefing ahead of the report's release.
Last year's report showed that deforestation had actually decreased by 6% compared to the baseline, which "was not enough, but it was progress," Matson said. "And it gave us hope that we could see continued progress in 2022."
"We really need to remember that every hectare of forest we lose pushes us further away from being able to keep global temperature rise to within 1.5°C, avoid irreversible tipping points, and restore nature."
Why wasn't that hope realized? The answer, Matson said, came down to money.
"We are investing in activities that are harmful for forests at far higher rates than we are investing in activities that are beneficial for forests," Matson explained.
Agriculture, including cattle ranching and the production of commodities like soy and palm oil, remains the leading cause of tropical deforestation. Yet Global Canopy found that, in 2022, 150 private financial institutions continued to channel $6.1 trillion to companies whose activities were likely to contribute to deforestation through commodity production, and two-thirds of the institutions did not have any policies in place to avoid investing in forest clearing. When it comes to public finance, between 2013 and 2018 governments invested $378 to $635 per year in "gray" finance—funding activities that could hurt forests—and only $26.5 billion total in "green" finance programs to protect them. That means that green finance flows were just $2.2 billion a year, or less than 1% of gray finance flows. Existing green finance also falls far short of the $460 billion a year that is needed to meet forest goals.
"We're financing deforestation through the products we buy and the activities that governments and businesses support through subsidies and investments," Mary Gagen, chief advisor on forests at WWF-UK, said during the briefing. "We really need to remember that every hectare of forest we lose pushes us further away from being able to keep global temperature rise to within 1.5°C, avoid irreversible tipping points, and restore nature."
There was some good news in the report. More than 50 countries are making enough progress to halt deforestation internally by the end of the decade, including Indonesia and Malaysia. Their success offers a potential road map for others.
"Much of their success is attributable to strong laws and enforcement, collaboration with the private sector and civil society, and strong support for and recognition for the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities, as well as just sheer political will," Matson said.
The report also does not include data that reflects Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's success at reducing Amazon deforestation in 2023 by enforcing environmental laws and respecting Indigenous rights after former right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro worked to erode them.
The report offered several recommendations for governments, private institutions, and civil society, including protecting and securing Indigenous land rights, boosting finance, and channeling subsidies away from industries and activities that harm forests and towards those that help. Overall, the report authors argued that the definition of "business as usual" had to change.
"Global economic models must be re-structured to value forests for the benefits that they provide over the long term, rather than for the superficial and short-term gain that comes with clearing them," the report authors wrote.
Alongside the assessment report, WWF released its Forest Pathways report, "the first ever comprehensive global blueprint on how to stop failing our forests," as Gagen put it.
The report outlines four pathways to protecting forests:
- Accelerating the recognition of Indigenous land rights;
- Mobilizing finance;
- Reforming global trade so that supply chains don't rely on commodities tied to deforestation; and
- Shifting the economy to value nature.
The conservation group also debuted a graphic of "forest stripes." Based on the famous "climate stripes" visualizing the warming of average temperatures, it shows in green to red the 79% decline of forest-dependent species from 1970 to 2018.
"We're at a critical juncture," Price said during the briefing. "We don't need new forest goals. We need uncompromising ambition, speed, and accountability by both governments and businesses to fulfill their existing goals."
Yet governments and corporations may not act on their own, especially as Matson does not expect forests to be a priority at the upcoming COP28 climate talks in United Arab Emirates this November and December.
"It's so much more important that citizens and the media and civil society keep our attention and pressure on world leaders to meet their shared responsibility on forests," Matson said. "Every country has to get on track or else we have little hope of meeting the 2030 goal."