A coalition of research organizations and civil society, the Forest Declaration Assessment, has conducted a new study that evaluates the progress toward eliminating deforestation by nations, companies and investors, as well as restoring 865 million acres of degraded land, by the end of the decade.

The report, “Off Track and Falling Behind,” shows that last year, progress worldwide on restoring and protecting forests worsened in some cases and moved too slowly overall.

“The world’s forests are in crisis. All these promises have been made to halt deforestation, to fund forest protection. But the opportunity to make progress is passing us by year after year,” said Erin Matson, a senior consultant at Climate Focus and a lead author of the report, in a press release from the Forest Declaration Assessment. “We saw that in 2021, efforts to end deforestation were already lagging. 2022 was a chance to catch up, but leaders fell short once again. We can’t afford to keep stumbling on the road to no deforestation by 2030. It’s now clear that halting deforestation will require sweeping changes to the economy — and that all of society has a role to play.”

Global deforestation slowed in 2021, but not enough for the world to be on course to reach its goal. Deforestation increased by four percent overall last year, compared to the year before. That translates to the loss of approximately 16.3 million acres of forest, meaning the world is 21 percent off course to eliminate deforestation by 2030.

According to the assessment, efforts to protect the most dense and pristine forests on the planet — primary tropical forests — are one-third off track, with 10.1 million acres lost last year. To be on the right path this year, global deforestation needs to be reduced by 27.8 percent.

“Hope isn’t lost, though,” said Franziska Haupt, managing partner at Climate Focus and a lead author of the study, in the press release. “We also find that some 50 countries are on track to end deforestation in their borders. Major rainforest countries like Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia have demonstrated drastic reductions in forest loss. The reforms it takes aren’t pie in the sky, and these countries set clear examples that others must follow. But the challenge is great: globally, we will need to reduce deforestation by 27.8% to be on track in 2023.” 

According to the report, forest loss increased in the Caribbean and Latin America, but fell by 18 percent in Asia’s tropical countries, with Indonesia and Malaysia meeting last year’s interim targets.

Deforestation in the tropics is primarily driven by agriculture, such as palm oil and soy production, cattle ranching and small-scale farming.

Tropical primary forests lost six percent last year, and none of the three main regions in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean are on course to eliminate primary forest loss.

The report also found that there is widespread and significant degradation of boreal and temperate forests each year in all regions across the world. Forest degradation threatens ecosystem resilience, biodiversity and sequestered carbon.

The assessment said some developing countries need better protections against forest degradation, mostly due to climate change and logging.

“While we must applaud any success, progress in some countries or regions was undercut by failures to reduce forest loss in other countries,” Haupt said in the press release. “All countries need to take responsibility: They need to limit their deforestation and degradation footprint at home and abroad, and they need to collaborate and support developing countries in this endeavor.”

Last year there was also an increase in gross greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, up six percent from the previous year.

Biodiversity also continues to be threatened. Specialist species, who depend on forest habitats, declined significantly between 1970 and 2018.

In 2022, progress was made in eliminating loss of tree cover in high conservation areas. Last year, nearly three million acres of forest were lost in key biodiversity forested areas across the world, representing a 30 percent decrease from 2018 to 2020.

“Data year over year does tend to shift. So one year is not the be-all, end-all,” Matson said, according to AFP. “But what is really important is the trend. And since the baseline of 2018 to 2020, we’re going in the wrong direction.”

Reporting is an issue in tracking deforestation worldwide.

“While there is evidence that restoration is scaling up globally, tracking progress is hindered by the glaring lack of transparency on public and private efforts to restore forests across the world. It is essential that both public and private sector actors step up to report their restoration data with a focus on quality, validation and transparency,” the press release said.

Another challenge is financing for protecting forests, as the yearly $2.2 billion in public funding is only a fraction of what is needed.

Funding of practices that destroy forests continues to grow, however. As of October of 2022, $6.1 trillion in financing was being provided by private financial institutions to companies that are most apt to practice commodity and agricultural production that drives tropical deforestation.

“Leadership on forest protection is still the exception, eradicating deforestation is still not a priority for most companies or their financiers,” said Thomas Maddox, global director of forests and land at environmental impact disclosure nonprofit CDP, in the press release. “In most cases the pressure to act from policymakers remains too weak to drive significant progress in public finance or private trade. We must see a change in the way the public and private sector value nature including forests, if we are to see any real progress. With widespread uptake and endorsement of the recently released TNFD (Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures) framework, and an increase in engagement with multi-stakeholder collaboration like landscape approaches there’s a real hope we can start moving in the right direction.”

The report emphasizes that there is minimal investment being made in Indigenous Peoples or local communities.

“The sad fact remains that many commitments to protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities are often still just lip service,” said Darragh Conway, an author of the report and a lead legal consultant at Climate Focus, in the press release. “Previous analyses have shown that IPs and LCs receive a mere fraction of the finance needed to secure their rights and manage their territories. Meanwhile, evidence at the ground level shows at best slow progress: legal recognition of IPs and LCs lands has increased in key tropical forest regions. Yet, these communities are consistently subject to violence and criminalization when protecting their lands, even as they are most directly harmed by forest destruction.”

According to the assessment, while the European Union has made progress through legislation to urge companies to remove supply chain deforestation, most major companies in commodity supply chains that present risks to forests, as assessed by Forest 500, do not have a comprehensive, clear or ambitious policy to get rid of deforestation in their supply chains, and most financial institutions have no investment and lending policies that address forest risk.

“Developed countries have announced dozens of initiatives to support ending tropical deforestation — yet the incentives they provide to developing countries are not nearly enough to overcome the challenges of reaching forest goals,” according to the press release. “For example, payments from a program called REDD+, which provides economic incentives for forest protection, are either too low upfront or too low overall. Most developing countries still need significant support to initiate critically-needed bold reforms.”

Overall, the report found that much more needs to be done to end deforestation.

“The world is failing forests with devastating consequences on a global scale,” said Fran Price, global forests lead for WWF, in the press release. “It is impossible to reverse nature loss, address the climate crisis and develop sustainable economies without forests. Since the global pledge to end deforestation by 2030 was made, an area of tropical forest the size of Denmark has been lost. We are at a critical juncture. Governments and businesses have a huge responsibility to set us on the right pathway. We do not need new forest goals: we need uncompromising ambition, speed and accountability to fulfill the goals that have already been set. It is time to step up.”

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