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The world’s forests have been steadily falling under the stone axes, metal axes and chainsaws of humans for some time after the last Ice Age. In the second half of the last decade, the planet lost a wooded area slightly larger than the state of Indiana – or roughly the size of Iceland – each year.
So it seems encouraging that on November 2, leaders from more than 120 countries, meeting at COP26, the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, agreed to stop deforestation – a major source of emissions. greenhouse gas emissions – by the end. of this decade.
Specifically, they engaged to “work collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 while ensuring sustainable development and promoting inclusive rural transformation”.
Color me dubious.
First, Indonesia’s environment minister – one of the top 10 countries for forest cover and forest loss – apparently read the fine print afterwards, because two days later she backtracked, calling the deal “inappropriate and unfair” and declaring that his country’s development should not stop “in the name of carbon emissions”.
Second, this is not the first time that world leaders have made such an enthusiastic pledge. In the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests, more than 200 signatories – including countries, subnational governments, businesses, nonprofits and indigenous organizations – agreed to halve forest loss. by 2020 and end it by 2030. But according to the official monitoring system, loss of primary tropical forests increased by more than 40% per year since the signing of the agreement.
Rhett Butler at Mongabay offers this very useful comparison agreements signed in New York and Glasgow, and notes that the objectives of the COP26 agreement are more vague than those of the 2014 pact – not a good start.
And third, the reasons why forests are destroyed are complex and interwoven, and they vary from country to country. Tackling it means tackling powerful agricultural, forestry and mining interests, as well as land speculators, organized crime and corrupt government officials.
Pope Francis nailed it in a message to heads of state attending the two-day leaders’ summit at the start of the conference, when he said the task in Glasgow was to show the world “if it really exists. a political will “to take the necessary measures to stem climate change, as Brian Roewe, NCR environmental correspondent, reported.
It will be a stretch for some of the countries with the highest deforestation rates. After years of rampant forest destruction, Brazil – which ranks second in the world for forest cover, behind Russia – has become the child poster for conservation through a combination of government policies and law enforcement. But the deforestation rates have increased again since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019.
Peru, where I live, ranks ninth in the world and second in South America (after Brazil) for forest cover. Here, deforestation is usually blamed on smallholders who migrate from the Andes to the Amazon to clear land for agriculture, but the reality is much more complicated.
Land speculators illegally subdivide plots of public forest, offering land titles illegally obtained from corrupt officials. Drug traffickers have made the drug crops profitable, prompting them to cut down trees and plant coca, which is used to make cocaine. They then launder money through illegal logging and mining operations that destroy more forests.
Details differ from country to country, but the overall picture is the same. Around the world, trees are worth more dead – and out of the way, so the earth can be “productive” – than alive. The challenge is to change this system in a world in which consumers are oblivious to the impacts of the production of furniture, palm oil, beef and other goods on forests halfway around the world.
There are bright spots. The lands where the world’s indigenous peoples live tend to act as a buffer against deforestation, but many of these communities lack legal recognition of their territories. Indigenous leaders have joined forces in recent years with scientists, environmental nonprofit groups and even the Pope to demand respect for their land rights. Nevertheless, murders of people defending their land from outsiders continue to increase.
Glasgow leaders also pledged to protect indigenous territories and promote sustainable agriculture. These are easy promises to make, but keeping them requires not only complementary national legislation, but also law enforcement. And, as François said, the will to do it. I hope this time will be different, but I remain skeptical.
EarthBeat was at COP26, and here’s what’s new:
Brian reported from Glasgow that faith-based climate activists gathered even before COP26 began to raise a moral voice for climate action. By the end of the first week, they demanded that world leaders and negotiators come up with plans, not promises. The pledges look good on paper but won’t go anywhere without detailed follow-up action, Catholic activists said.
Nonetheless, climate scientists and faith-motivated activists do not give in to pessimism, but rely on a common ethic of love for neighbor and responsibility for creation to avoid eco-mourning, writes Elizabeth E. Evans of Religion News Service. Church institutions are also responding, including the German Bishops’ Conference, which released its first climate protection report ahead of COP26, as reported by the Catholic News Service.
Also ahead of the climate conference, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew told students during an audience at Notre Dame University that they can be catalysts for ecological justice. And as the conference began, about 250 people in the United States participated in a 24-hour fast in solidarity with a group of young hunger strikers outside the White House who called out President Joe Biden and the Democrats. of Congress to keep their climate action promises.
Brian returned from Glasgow, but before boarding his flight, he offered a behind-the-scenes look at the week’s activities.
“Covering a COP involves a lot of racing. There is so much going on all at once. Think of a big industry conference happening at the same time as a high-stakes congressional vote, with the election results all coming out in the middle of it. ,” he said.
One thing that stood out was “the tension between nations and civil society, and the difference in tone between those in the main hall and those demonstrating outside or in the green zone more accessible to the public,” said added Brian, who found himself leading the 20-minute ride between the two areas to keep up with his interview schedule.
The tensions he detected demonstrate that “countries have a significant credibility deficit on climate change, and that these announcements often mean little to those most affected,” he said. “So many times, the people I have spoken with, especially those in Africa, Latin America and the Pacific, have pointed out that people are dying now and that these deliberations and decisions are not just about moving from one number one better, but that their communities suffer and risk suffering more without immediate action. “
Nonetheless, countries less visible on the world stage see the conference as “their forum for sharing their experiences,” added Brian. “While some may shrug their shoulders at the UN negotiations as the height of bureaucracy – and yes, there is a slow pace and little progress in many cases, especially on the climate – activists say it is necessary to help give that voice, and that is why they push so hard to ensure [affected communities] have it here. “
Here are some of the novelties in other climate news:
- The lifestyle choices of the world’s richest people are responsible for a large portion of greenhouse gas emissions – and an annual income of $ 38,000 is enough to put you in the top 10%. Laura Paddison at the BBC examines what it would take to reduce that footprint.
- And facing the open sea, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica have announced the joint creation of a protected area without fishing in a 200,000 square mile corridor that is also a migration route for sharks, whales, rays and sea turtles, Dan Collyns reports for The Guardian.
Events to come:
This week, Dr. Joe Holland, Thomas Berry researcher in residence at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, will speak with members of several thriving eco-communities about their role in the global ecological renaissance.
You can find more information about this and other events on the EarthBeat events page. And you can add your own event here.
COP26 is halfway through. If you’ve been following the news, what struck you? What would you like to know more about? Write to us at [email protected] and help guide our coverage in the week ahead.
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