Helen Clark: Statement on “The Importance of Action to Combat Deforestation and Tropical Forest Degradation in Tackling Climate Change” at the Abu Dhabi Ascent Conference In Support Of the UN Climate Summit 2014

04 May 2014

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
on "The Importance of Action to Combat Deforestation and Tropical Forest Degradation in Tackling Climate Change”
at the Abu Dhabi Ascent Conference in Support of the UN Climate Summit 2014
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

There is considerable global momentum on the need to halt deforestation and forest degradation. Success in this area will make a significant contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Indeed, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states – with the highest possible certainty and agreement among scientists – that emissions reductions from forests and land use change are “extremely important in meeting emission reduction targets”.

Conversely, without aggressive reductions in deforestation, it will be very difficult to keep the global temperature rise below the targeted two degrees above pre-industrialized levels. 

What is needed NOW are strengthened global partnerships encompassing the following:

  1. Tropical forest countries can implement strategic national land use planning and strengthen the governance of their natural resources, in order to curb deforestation;
  2. Developed countries can provide more incentive payments for verified emission reductions through the REDD+ mechanism;
  3. More of the private sector can green their supply chains by adopting and implementing deforestation-free sourcing and investment policies;
  4. Consumers can use their buying power in support of products which have a deforestation-free value chain.
  5. It is vital that we acknowledge the role which indigenous peoples and local communities have historically played as stewards of the forests. Their ongoing contribution to managing and protecting forests must be supported now and for the future. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will elaborate on this in this session.

Is decisive action to curb deforestation possible?

Yes it is. Take Brazil, which has seen its deforestation rates drop by seventy per cent compared to the average annual rate between 1996 and 2005.

These results were made possible by high level political commitment, private sector involvement, active civil society, indigenous leadership, and international support. The mix of policies which achieved this has been positive for indigenous peoples and other local communities, and for jobs and livelihoods.

In the end, forest protection is not a threat to business – it’s a new way of doing business. A quiet revolution is taking place in the private sector: more companies are announcing commitments to zero deforestation production or purchasing of commodities. For example:

  • Indonesia’s largest palm oil and pulp and paper producers – Golden Agri Resources and Asia Pulp and Paper - have committed to zero deforestation. Just this week, Asia Pulp and Paper announced that it would restore one million hectares of forests to compensate for its previous deforestation.
  • On the buyer side, Wilmar International, which trades almost half the world’s palm oil, recently pledged a new zero deforestation policy. 
  • The Consumer Goods Forum – whose 400 multinational companies’ total revenues are as large as the economy of France – has pledged to end deforestation in its supply chains by 2020. We will hear about this historic commitment from Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever, later today. 

Taken together, these announcements mark a tipping point. Now, we are seeing the finance sector stepping up as well. The Banking Environment Initiative is marshalling support from the banking community to match and accelerate these deforestation free supply chain commitments. If more banks sign up, this could help transform markets.

For the past five years, UNDP, UNEP, FAO, and the World Bank have been supporting more than sixty developing countries to prepare REDD+ strategies. More and more of them are advancing towards full implementation. Many will need funding support for their initiatives to reach their full potential.

The Secretary General’s Climate Summit at the UN in September is a major opportunity for all stakeholders to make new commitments to combating deforestation. 

  • Forest countries could announce at the Summit their intention to include more ambitious goals to turn the tide on deforestation in their post-2020 climate goals. They could announce both how much they can do alone, and how much more they could do with support. Indigenous peoples and local communities must be full participants in these processes.
  • Advanced economies could include emission reductions from the implementation of REDD+ in their post-2020 climate goals, and offer developing countries results-based payments for emission reductions which are verified through the UNFCCC process before 2020.
  • Private sector players could announce more time-bound corporate commitments to zero deforestation production, and demonstrate their willingness to invest in greening their supply chains. 

With strong partnerships, there is good potential to make a big breakthrough on curbing deforestation. Recent announcements by governments and the private sector pave the way, and I hope will inspire others to act. We must act on our conviction that it is possible to increase inclusive growth and improve local livelihoods, while forests are kept standing and contributing to climate change mitigation and maintaining biodiversity. Through REDD+ and with the support of all stakeholders, we CAN achieve these goals simultaneously.