Nature and Biodiversity

How can we save the world’s forests?

Helen E. Clark
Chair, Lancet Countdown High-Level Advisory Board on Health and Climate Change
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Future of the Environment

On the agenda this week at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos is the crucial role of forests in tackling climate change.

Conserving the world’s trees is critical to climate-change mitigation. While forests absorb carbon dioxide, when cleared or degraded they become a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. 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 finalized at the United Nations climate conference in Paris 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 September’s UN Climate Summit in New York hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, 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 New York summit’s forests action area, which UNDP facilitated and which saw the launch of the New York Declaration on Forests. This process has forged an unprecedented partnership of governments, businesses, civil-society organizations and indigenous peoples pledging to halve forest loss by 2020 and end it by 2030.

Progress on palm oil

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 later in the year we saw the proportion of global palm-oil trade covered by deforestation-free commitments grow over 90% – a huge accomplishment.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Unilever CEO Paul Polman and Abdon Nababan, Secretary-General of AMAN, are among those attending Davos 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 smallholder farmers and indigenous peoples can benefit 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 delivering adequate, sustainable and predictable financing for climate change and low carbon development.

Author: Helen Clark is the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the former Prime Minister of New Zealand. She will be participating in this year’s Annual Meeting in Davos.

Image: An aerial view is seen of forest being cleared by palm oil companies in the Ketapang district of Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province, July 5, 2010. REUTERS/Crack Palinggi

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