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Nations with 85% of Earth's forests pledge to reverse deforestation

Aerial view of illegal deforestation at the Natural National Park in La Macarena, Meta Department, Colombia, in 2020.
Raul Arboleda
AFP via Getty Images
Aerial view of illegal deforestation at the Natural National Park in La Macarena, Meta Department, Colombia, in 2020.

Brazil, home to the Amazon rainforest, is among at least 105 countries pledging to reverse deforestation as part of an agreement signed at a major international climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

The Glasgow Leaders' Declaration on Forests and Land Use also includes Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and its signatories account for about 85% of the world's forests.

The agreement aims to conserve and accelerate restoration of forests and to significantly increase finance and investment to promote sustainable forest management, conservation and support for Indigenous and local communities.

Politicians praised the deal, but it met with less enthusiasm from activist groups.

President Biden, who is attending the summit known as COP26, said the plan will "help the world deliver on our shared goal of halting natural forest loss."

He said it would restore 200 million hectares (nearly 500 million acres) of forest and other ecosystems by 2030. "We're going to work to ensure markets recognize the true economic value of natural carbon sinks and motivate governments, landowners and stakeholders to prioritize conservation," Biden said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in a tweet, called it "landmark action."

"We have a chance to end humanity's long history as nature's conqueror, and become its custodian."

The declaration adds about $19 billion in public and private funds. Some $1.7 billion of that has been pledged by the U.S., United Kingdom, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands and 17 other private funders, such as the Ford Foundation and foundations run by billionaires Jeff Bezos and Mike Bloomberg, to fund "activities to secure, strengthen and protect Indigenous Peoples' and local communities' land and resource rights," according to The Associated Press.

A spokesperson for the Ford Foundation told the AP that the governments are providing approximately $1 billion and the rest will come from the private funders.

The deal expands a similar 2014 commitment made by 40 countries that experts have said did little to address the problem, and the latest agreement got a skeptical reception from climate activists.

Jakob Kronik, director for international cooperation at Denmark-based Forests of the World, called the declaration "a very positive announcement" but also cautioned, "The pledge should be for 2025, not 2030. Action now is urgent and necessary."

Souparna Lahiri of the Global Forest Coalition said the agreement "is one of those oft repeated attempts to make us believe that deforestation can be stopped and forest can be conserved by pushing billions of dollars into the land and territories of the Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities."

The forests absorb roughly a third of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the nonprofit World Resources Institute, which says that in 2020, the world lost 100,000 square miles of forest — an area larger than the United Kingdom.

The three largest rainforests in the world are located in the Amazon, Congo River basin and Southeast Asia. They have historically acted as "carbon sinks," absorbing more carbon dioxide than they produce.

However, research published earlier this year suggests that forests spanning Southeast Asia have become a net carbon emitter "due to clearing for plantations, uncontrolled fires and drainage of peat soils," while the Amazon is on the cusp of following suit if rapid deforestation there isn't quickly reversed.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.