Originally published at World Agroforestry (ICRAF).
Seven leaders of UN agencies at the Climate Conference in Madrid call for an end to deforestation to address the climate emergency
‘Forests are essential to life on Earth; we cannot afford to destroy them. UN agencies are fundamental in supporting countries to take action.’
Naoko Ishii, Global Environment Facility
Carolina Schmidt, president of the 25th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that deforestation is the most critical challenge faced by humanity: a bold, new stand is needed against destruction of the world’s forests. She called on the UN and the world to heed the Santiago Call for Action on Forests and work collaboratively to achieve zero net deforestation.
In response, seven heads of UN agencies joined together in the first-ever UN Heads of Organizations Leadership Dialogue, 12 December 2019 at the Climate Conference in Madrid, to strengthen their collaboration in supporting member states achieve zero deforestation.
Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary, UNFCCC; Qu Dongyu, Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UN Environment Programme (UNEP); Achim Steiner, Administrator, UN Development Programme (UNDP); Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary, UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD); Naoko Ishii, Chief Executive Officer and Chair of the Global Environment Facility (GEF); and Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) explained their agencies’ past actions and commitments to increasing the synergies between each other to provide maximum support to member states, especially developing nations, to stop deforestation.
‘The UN system has enormous capacities around the world,’ said Espinosa. ‘Combined, we have the knowledge, experience and capacities to facilitate actions with governments. This is the first leadership dialogue and it augers fantastically for going forward. Coordination, communication and looking for synergies between our different entities is key. This is such an enormous challenge that no one of us can do it alone. To support developing countries, in particular, we really need to work together. Importantly, when we talk about forests and land use we must bear in mind the social dimensions of the work we need to do in this area, especially the communities in the most vulnerable developing countries.’
Deforestation, degradation and restoration have been included in the Kyoto Protocol, Paris Agreement and other international conventions, said Zhenmin of UN DESA, but loss and degradation of vast areas of natural forests continues, particularly, in the tropical domain where 7 million hectares of forests are lost every year.
‘Zero deforestation can only be achieved through UN member states,’ he said. ‘We must all work together; all should act as one to move forward on a common framework to achieve zero net deforestation.’
He pointed out that the High-Level Forum on Forests has developed a strategic plan for forests, which was adopted in April 2017 by the General Assembly, to tackle the drivers of deforestation and degradation; to find a balance between economic growth and sustainability; and to improve the strength of the forestry sector. The plan has six goals and 26 targets in an integrated framework of action for zero net deforestation designed to unlock the potential of forests to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. If fully implemented, it will stop deforestation, increase reforestation and reduce poverty of forest-dependent people.
He committed his agency to continue support to member states to implement the plan and urged them to speed that implementation. DESA would strengthen collaboration in capacity building of member states and in mobilizing funding for forest management and deployment of technologies.
Dongyu of FAO confirmed that there was a great need to address food security and forests together holistically. Over 20 developed countries have decreased the number of malnourished people and also increased forest area. His key message was that it is possible to reconcile these issues through coordinating a land-use approach across sectors.
The synergy of agencies’ efforts can already be seen in FAO and UNEP leading the Decade of Restoration. Their aim is to massively expand the scale of restoration of degraded ecosystems, including forests. In this process, decisions must be based on evidence and the world must look beyond forests alone and build collective synergy, for example, to reduce the carbon footprints of agricultural commodities.
‘Traditional agriculture has been focused mainly on productivity but now we must look at sustainability, especially, in cash crops,’ he said.
A key to this effort is to ensure that subsidies are not driving deforestation and that enacted policies are in place for food security. Technologies and innovations are also keys to achieving rapid results and must be deployed widely, with a strong focus on environmental functions. He also emphasized that the world needs a strong and flexible set of forest monitoring tools that can readily upload and access data through technology such as mobile phones. To speed the transition to zero deforestation and stronger food security through sustainable agricultural value chains, partnerships are needed between UN agencies and businesses.
Ishii of the GEF stated that the science is clear: 73% of deforestation is driven by conversion to agriculture. How, she asked, are we to deal with the economic forces that are driving this?
‘We need to understand this better and implement all commitments, like the New York Declaration on Forests. We are failing in translating commitments into actions. Why are we failing? The lack of feet on the ground to translate into action is a lesson we have learned from the past. To address this, GEF has created a coalition of countries that have committed USD 430 million to create multistakeholder platforms that bring together ministries of forestry and of agriculture, local governments, businesses and financial institutions.’
The actions, she said, need to be based on land-use planning and adopt both landscape and value-chain approaches. To stop deforestation, protection of forests is needed with sustainability embedded right through to consumption.
‘The challenge is to get all the players together in their countries while also including the global value chains,’ she said. ‘We can do this better working together to be more inclusive of business, governments, financial institutions and communities. Would have a better success rate.’
The USD 9.8 billion in replenishment funds committed to the GEF would help speed progress.
Steiner of UNDP said that, ‘We are underperforming to meet our own objectives with the deforestation figures.’ He went on to agree that FAO has a key role to play but so do all the agencies. ‘We all have a role to play in keeping forests on national agendas.’
Steiner noted that REDD+ is a key mechanism that brought together UNDP, UNEP and FAO through UN-REDD. Norway has backed the boldest experiment in mitigation, adaptation, land use, restoration. ‘Don’t let Norway be the only supporter,’ he urged.
A focus on increasing the ambition of NDCs was needed, with particular emphasis on nature-based solutions. He noted that 100 countries were engaged with the NDC Partnership and called for ‘a far greater focus on forests to address climate/NDCs and biodiversity/CBD’.
‘On the ground, these differences between conventions don’t matter,’ he said. ‘As the UN community, it is a responsibility to bridge the conventions. Next year is the year of nature.’
Thiaw of UNCCD reminded the panel and the audience that ‘we need to feed 10 billion to come without depleting our ecosystems’ and that the UN can do better on science and policy. Land degradation neutrality was important; we need to use land but also conserve it.
Andersen of UNEP stated that 70% of forests were under threat, mostly from commodity production.
‘We are part of the problem,’ said. ‘We need to help that sector flip into sustainable production; we need to clean up our supply chains. Governments and UN leaders need to step up, especially FAO. We need to partner with the private sector. We need to help them towards positive agricultural outcomes.
She also noted that the price for carbon varies greatly (USD 26–35) but the forest carbon price was at USD 5.
‘This is why we need a good outcome for Article 6 [of the Paris Agreement],’ she said. ‘Let’s label products over time. Let’s clean up supply chains. In the context of the European Green New Deal, 2020 is the ‘super year’ for nature.
The Santiago Call for Action has seven core elements:
1) Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and enhance carbon sinks: countries must strengthen efforts in line with Article 5 of the Paris Agreement, expand the scale of actions and increase knowledge;
2) Increase the ambition of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) through Nature-Based Solutions based on forest activities (Including REDD+);
3) Advance NDC implementation through effective and measurable multistakeholder action; including voluntary calls such as the Bonn Challenge;
4) Increase NDC transparency: reinforcing trust in the Paris Agreement. It is important to share how countries will mitigate the impact of the climate emergency and to track progress;
5) Scale-up predictable financial support from all sources, including through REDD+;
6) Build on existing technical support for NDC implementation and reporting; expanding the scale of technical support for reporting, particularly, for developing countries;
7) Actively engage local communities and indigenous peoples, including women and youth: a holistic approach is essential to turn the tide on deforestation.
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