Momentum remains high for forests role in sustainable development and tackling climate change

Jan 21, 2015

UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark visits the forests of Carara National Park in Costa Rica in 2013. Photo: UNDP/Costa Rica.

As world leaders and heads of business descend on Davos this week for the World Economic Forum, discussions on the crucial role of forests in tackling climate change while helping sustain over 1.6 billion forest dependent people remain key in 2015 – a bellwether year for climate change and sustainable development.

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark will open the session “Reducing Tropical Deforestation Related to Key Agricultural Commodities” in Davos with expected participation from President Ollanta Moises Humala Tasso of Peru; Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development of France; CEO's Marc Bolland of Marks and Spencer and David M. MacLennan of Cargill; and Jeremy Goon, Chief Sustainability Officer of palm oil giant Wilmar.

"Forest conservation is critical to climate change mitigation. Our forests absorb carbon dioxide and provide a range of other services, but when cleared they become a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions," Helen Clark said, speaking ahead of the event.

Over thirteen million hectares of forests are cleared annually, around three times the area of Switzerland – contributing up to 20 percent of global emissions, and threatening economic progress and human well-being.

With a global climate agreement due to be finalized at the Paris Climate Conference at the end of the year and forests to be included in the Sustainable Development Goals to be adopted by UN member states in September, Helen Clark says 2015 matters like no other year since the turn of the century.

Referring to the UN Climate Summit hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in September 2014, as well as recent unprecedented progress advancing deforestation free supply chains, she said “we need to maintain and build upon the momentum made last year,” the year scientists have marked as the warmest on record.

The Climate Summit’s forests action area, which UNDP facilitated, saw the launch of the New York Declaration on Forests – a ground-breaking partnership of companies, governments, civil society and indigenous peoples pledging to halve forest loss by 2020 and end it by 2030.

Addressing deforestation promises multiple wins – for the climate, for inclusive development and economic growth, for smallholder famers and indigenous peoples – but only if all sectors act together.

Keeping all sectors engaged is crucial and Davos is the key ground for this to take place. Last year, participants at the Davos session on forests focused on advancing deforestation-free supply chains. As a result, 2014 saw the percentage of global palm oil trade covered by ‘deforestation-free’ commitments grow to over 90 percent – an unprecedented accomplishment.

With leaders such as Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Unilever CEO, Paul Polman and Abdon Nababan, Secretary-General, Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of Indonesia (AMAN) in attendance this year, delegates will discuss how ‘deforestation-free’ commitments might be expanded to cover new commodities and new companies, and examine how smallholder farmers and indigenous peoples can benefit from the implementation of these commitments.

“It is hoped that the private sector will build and expand on the significant commitments already made to achieve deforestation-free supply chains. Governments and other must also commit to playing their necessary roles to that end," Helen Clark said.

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