Reforestation and restoration targets missed as roads and mining expand

Scientists urge shift toward strategic monitoring
Wood intended for refineries is transported to Yaounde, Cameroon. CIFOR/Ollivier Girard

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The 2020 target of halving deforestation will be missed and meeting the 2030 target of ending deforestation will require an unprecedented reduction in the rate of annual forest loss, according to a new global assessment.

This is largely due to companies, governments and investors that are allowing mining and infrastructure projects to go ahead without considering the climate, economic, social and environmental value of forests through effective forest and biodiversity policies, says the report from the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) by the NYDF Assessment Partners.

Roads in particular, which provide access for loggers, farmers and others who are responsible for cutting down trees – legally or illegally – will lead to substantial damage, the report states. Yet, for years scientists have cautioned against the encroachment of linear infrastructure — including roads, highways, power and gas lines — in the tropics, where the consequences for vulnerable species are devastating.

The 2020 progress assessment comes six years after the launch of the NYDF, a voluntary international agreement to halve deforestation by 2020 and end it by 2030.

“The findings highlight the weakness of voluntary pledges made by companies and governments who remain unaccountable,” said Robert Nasi, director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and managing director of World Agroforestry (ICRAF) which is a joint member of the NYDF Assessment Partners. “Empirical and investigative research must be introduced to increase transparency and more systematically monitor activities.”

Although it offers a review of all 10 goals, the main focus of the report this year is on the status of Goal 3, which aims to significantly reduce deforestation from infrastructure and extractive developments, by 2020, and Goal 4, which supports alternatives to deforestation driven by basic needs — such as subsistence farming and the use of wood fuel for energy — to alleviate poverty and promote sustainable and equitable development.

Many financial institutions, multilateral development banks and bilateral donors have adopted policies, signed on to principles, and developed safeguards intended to address social and environmental risks, but major shortcomings remain in their implementation.

“We recognize this outcome only too well — brittle environmental promises and agreements do not suffice if we are to protect biodiversity and the future health of the planet in the face of a dramatically changing climate,” Nasi said. “We need greater accountability.”

A 2019 World Bank analysis of 29 case studies on large-scale mining in forests cited in the report could not find any example of a mining operation that comprehensively addressed and mitigated forest risks.

“The lack of transparency and third-party verification around many — if not most — large companies involved in the deforestation value chain is staggering,” said Arild Angelsen, a professor of economics at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) and a senior associate scientist with CIFOR-ICRAF.

“In many cases we see more openness by government, although that too is far from ideal — the lack of progress on the ground suggests that many private sector pledges aren’t much more than lip service and greenwashing,” he said.

The report also examines the role civil society, Indigenous and local communities play in protesting deforestation and its causes, citing power imbalances. In the Amazon, Indigenous communities face violence and threats, and even murder — including Indigenous leaders — by groups of small-scale, informal miners, the report states.

“A greater emphasis on reforming the approach companies take and the actions they prioritize must be established,” said Anne Larson, principal scientist and team leader of Equity, Gender, Justice and Tenure, at CIFOR-ICRAF.

“Securing rights and supporting sustainable livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples and other local communities could reduce deforestation, but this requires vision, leadership, and  taking action against incursions into Indigenous lands, which result in threats and at times the murder of rights and environmental defenders.”

Corporations and governments must provide detailed timelines, establishing the measures they will take to achieve their pledges, Nasi said.

The report points out that production is often linked to a reliance in the Global North on commodities produced in developing and emerging economies.

“The proper analysis of forest impact – a Forest Impact Analysis – for large infrastructure projects remains a major challenge,” Angelsen said. “The overwhelming importance of new infrastructure, and roadmaps in particular, to properly evaluate the fate of forests should make this a top public policy priority.”

Changing course

An assessment of Goal 5, which is focused on forest and landscape restoration, also falls short, the report states. As part of the NYDF, under the Bonn Challenge countries committed to restore 150 million hectares by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030, but the assessment estimates the 2020 target will not be met, basing its projection on incomplete data.

The pledges indicate political will, but are hampered in part due to their inadvertent dilution throughout additional multiple international commitments, including the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the U.N. Convention to Combat Diversification and a range of regional initiatives, the report said.

In addition to incomplete data, part of the problem is that assessing progress through satellite imagery depicting increases in forest cover reveals only one of the many dimensions of what forest and landscape restoration entails, said Manuel Guariguata, a principal scientist at CIFOR-ICRAF, who is working on the technical, policy and practice dimensions of equitable forest and landscape restoration at national and international levels.

“Solely focusing on compliance monitoring — that is, the number of hectares being restored — fails to reveal on-the-ground insights as to why forest and landscape restoration interventions are effective or ineffective, including whether the needs and aspirations of local people were met,” Guariguata said.

His research for CIFOR-ICRAF includes efforts to develop comprehensive monitoring methods. For one project, he created a checklist of 42 core success factors to be assessed at local, subnational, and national levels at different stages in the planning and implementation of forest and landscape restoration.

“We designed it to provide guidance on best practices,” he said. “Specifically, it offers recommendations on how to start collaborative monitoring, and more generally, how to plan, prepare for, and evaluate forest and landscape restoration activities.”

Other research demonstrates that participatory monitoring at the community level could also play a crucial role in providing accountability and generating local buy in, leading to monitoring systems that are cost effective and adaptable in a range of environments.

“There are a range of cost-effective tools and methods available to policymakers, planners and local communities to more closely scrutinize what is going on in forests and landscapes,” Guariguata said. “Enhancing the provision of key environmental services such as hydrologic regulation or animal pollination, for example, does not always depend on reaching a given hectare-based target – we need to measure activities from a range of perspectives.”

People living in or near forests can collect accurate data on forest change, drivers of change, threats to reforestation, and biophysical and socioeconomic impacts that remote sensing cannot.

“Participatory monitoring could provide a framework for linking global, national, and local needs, aspirations, and capacities for forest restoration,” Guariguata said.

For more information on this topic, please contact Robert Nasi at
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