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Global leaders sign pledge to halt deforestation

More than 100 global leaders will make a commitment on Tuesday to halt deforestation by 2030, while 30 financial institutions are set to promise to eliminate the harmful practice from their portfolios by 2025.

In what is being billed as one of the first significant steps of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, leaders from countries that are home to more than 85 per cent of the world’s forests will put their names to a declaration designed to end the legal and illegal destruction of woodland. How the commitment will be enforced remains unclear.

The countries, including Australia, Colombia, Indonesia and the US, will commit to “working collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation.”

UK prime minister Boris Johnson will hail the declaration as a “landmark agreement”. Climate experts said the pledges would mark a change in the seriousness with which deforestation — a main source of carbon emissions — is treated on the international stage and in the private sector.

Justin Adams, chief executive of the Tropical Forest Alliance, said the pledges would signify “the biggest moment we’ve had in forests and nature, probably ever . . . it’s going to be something we look back on and say this is where we started to turn the tide.”

The high-level declaration is being seen as a key first step, though it does not outline specifics such as how progress will be assessed and what might happen if nations fail to implement it.

Although Brazil will be among the signatories, President Jair Bolsonaro — under whom deforestation has risen sharply — committed in April to halting deforestation by 2030, shortly before slashing the budget for environmental enforcement.

Matt Williams, climate and land programme lead of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said the declaration would be “one of the first major outcomes of the UN climate summit.”

Details about how the pledge will work in practice may emerge in the coming days following the “negotiations and dialogue” that have taken place “behind the scenes for the past few months”, he added.

In an attempt to set standards for sustainable supply chains, 28 governments will also sign up to a new forests, agriculture and commodity trade “road map of action”.

More details about how trade policies might be used to reduce the import of harmfully produced goods are promised later in the week.

Simon Lewis, professor of global change science at University College London, welcomed the news but added that “careful monitoring of the delivery of each initiative is essential for success”.

The private sector pledge, meanwhile, will see more than 30 financial institutions that collectively manage nearly $9tn in assets, including Aviva and Schroders, commit to eliminating the destruction of forests from their investment and lending portfolios by 2025.

That is “something that we couldn’t have even dreamt of two years ago”, said Adams.

The commitment — which will be dominated by investors and asset managers rather than banks — will see signatories promise to disclose the “deforestation risk and mitigation activities” in their portfolios by 2023 and publicly report on their progress.

They will also call on policymakers and regulators to act to end illegal felling and “where necessary” to curb legal deforestation.

Non-profits have repeatedly criticised the private sector for facilitating companies linked to the practice.

The government pledge will be supported by $12bn in overseas development financing from 12 countries, including the UK, US, Germany and Japan, between 2021 and 2025 to help countries protect and restore their forests. That will include $1.5bn to protect the Congo Basin, home to the second-largest tropical rainforest in the world.

Five governments and 17 philanthropic groups will also pledge $1.7bn, short of a $2bn goal, to support indigenous peoples in protecting forests, including by helping communities secure rights of tenure.

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