As leaders, businesses and human activity continue to fail the world’s forests on a catastrophic scale, a major new report published today (24 October) by WWF sets out the first ever comprehensive global blueprint on how to bring our forests back to life.
Launching alongside the 2023 Forest Declaration Assessment, WWF’s new Forest Pathways Report comes just two years on from pledges made at COP26 by over 140 countries representing 90% of the world’s forests, to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030.
Yet these new reports show the speed and intensity with which we are still destroying forests around the world and the lack of progress on commitments leaves us clearly in danger of missing vital targets.
Despite commitments from world leaders at COP26 to support trade policies that do not drive deforestation, new analysis in the report reveals that changing land use and decimating forests to supply the international trade in soy, palm oil, cocoa and coffee alone resulted in an estimated 392 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2021.
And since pledges at COP26 to significantly increase global finance for forest conservation and restoration, the report shows that globally we are now spending at least 100 times more public funding on environmentally harmful subsidies ($378 billion – $1trillion) than we are on finance for forests ($2.2bn).
Alongside this analysis, new figures from the Forest Declaration Assessment also published today reveal that in 2022 alone, global forest loss was 6.6 million hectares and tropical forest loss was 4.1 million hectares – an area the size of Denmark.
Yet fewer forests mean a far more unstable world – with much less biodiversity and wildlife, less food and water security, less protection against extreme weather events and more climate chaos.
Despite housing 80% of our terrestrial biodiversity, forests are being increasingly decimated for crops, and unsustainable agriculture is resulting in the declines of species that depend on forests such as gorillas, hornbills, orangutans, and black headed squirrel monkeys.
Average populations of monitored forest species have declined by 79% in the last 50 years alone.
The Forest Pathways Report showcases positive stories of progress and success, such as the Khata Forest Conservation Area in Nepal which has expanded by the equivalent of over 3,000 football fields and is now a thriving wildlife corridor for tigers and other species; forest restoration projects in Australia creating more habitats for koalas and the Wild Ingleborough project supported by WWF to restore 1,500 hectares of forest in the Yorkshire Dales.
However, at a global level we are not delivering on pledges made to save forests and we are not moving fast enough to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030.
The Forest Pathways Report’s blueprint calls on global leaders to:
‘Every hectare of forest we lose takes us closer to runaway climate change, and despite all the promises our leaders have made to turn this around there’s a huge chasm between where we are and where we should be.
‘Even worse, we’re continuing to finance deforestation through the products we buy and the activities governments and businesses support through the subsidies and investments they make. We need accelerated action in the UK and across the world from global leaders and businesses to transform the future for our forests and bring our world back to life.’
Chief executive at WWF
In the UK, WWF is calling on the UK government to bring into force a ‘due diligence’ system to cut deforestation out of supply chains which despite being part of the Environment Act 2021, two years later has not yet been brought in.
The charity wants to see this due diligence system expanded to include legal as well as illegal deforestation so that UK supply chains are not responsible for forest loss.
The due diligence obligations should be extended to the financial services sector, which is responsible for billions of pounds of lending and investment to industries linked to deforesting commodities, as well as direct investments in companies trading in deforesting products.
WWF also wants to see the introduction of core environmental standards for all food sold in and imported to the UK, so that the food in our shopping baskets is not contributing to deforestation.
Finally, the charity wants the targeting of the UK’s international funding commitments on climate and nature to be reconsidered, to focus on tackling the drivers of deforestation such as supporting countries in transitioning to sustainable production.
‘Major tropical forest basins like the Amazon are reaching their tipping point in the face of mounting pressure – a divergence between the voice of international forest commitments and the reality of a global acceleration in forest loss, continuing degradation and a decline in wildlife. But there are pockets of success where countries are tackling deforestation and we know what needs to be done to grow those.
‘Missing our forest goals means ever greater risks for our planet, each year we fail, because the targets get harder to meet each year that we fail them. Our findings show the pathways to protected, restored and sustainably managed forests are known – we don’t need new forest targets, we need to implement the ones we have with high ambition and accountability.’
Author of the Forest Pathways Report and chief advisor for forests at WWF