What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another. 1
- 1 “Thoughts on the Environment.” Forbes India. ForbesIndia, June 2, 2021. https://www.forbesindia.com/article/lifes/thoughts-on-the-environment/6….
In September of 2014, the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) endorsed the UN Climate Summit. 2 The voluntary, non-binding international declaration set ten shared forest management goals for signatories to meet by 2030. All of these goals relate to the economic, scientific, governmental, or technological management of forests through habitat conservation, commercial enterprise, and recreational activities. But, within the context of an internationalist Green New Deal, one goal in particular stands out: putting an end to natural forest loss. 3 Natural forest loss is the permanent transition from naturally occurring forests to another land use. Preserving existing forests is important to support the nearly 80% of terrestrial biodiversity that lives in forests, the 1.6 billion people who depend on forest ecosystems, and the gigatons of carbon stored within them. 4
Since its introduction, the NYDF has amassed more than 200 signatories, comprising national and sub-national governments, multinational corporations, indigenous rights groups, and NGOs from around the globe. Together these entities are hoping to be able to leverage their collective might and redefine the currently extractive relationship to the world’s forests. The NYDF calls for signatories to adapt new policies, alter supply chains, and reconfigure land uses in an attempt to end natural forest loss by 2030. As an interim benchmark, natural forest loss was to be halved from 2014 values (13 million hectares of annual forest loss) by 2020. To be on track with the goals of annual forest loss would have to fall to 6.5 million hectares per year. This number alone is an astounding amount of forest lost annually, but reducing forest loss by half would have been remarkable progress. By all accounts this goal has not been achieved: annual forest loss has increased 43% over the 2000-2018 period. To the NYDF’s credit (or perhaps delusion) they have continued with their initial goal of zero natural forest loss by 2030, meaning annual forest loss will have to be reduced by over 2 million hectares a year. The resolution faces one major challenge in reaching its goal, it is non-binding, meaning there are no enforcement methods or disincentives for signatories who have not aided in reducing natural forest loss. 5 Reaching zero forest loss will require adopting more concrete, binding resolutions at the international level. Adopting binding resolutions runs counter to the desires of corporate entities and NGOs who are seeking to open new resource markets in the global south in the name of sustainable development. 6
- 2UN. “New York Declaration on Forests.” New York City: United Nations, 2014.
- 3UN. “New York Declaration on Forests.” New York City: United Nations, 2014.
- 4UN. “New York Declaration on Forests.” New York City: United Nations, 2014.
- 5 Farand, Chloé. “Five Years after New York Declaration, Forest Promises Go Unmet.” Climate Home News. Climate Home, September 12, 2019. https://www.climatechangenews.com/2019/09/12/five-years-new-york-declar….
- 6 Link to FDI
The extent of forests around the world has declined by an estimated 16.4 million km2 (36% of the historical extent) over the last 200 years. 11
You know, a tree is a tree, how many more do you need to look at. 17
- 17 Harris, Thomas H. “How Many Trees Do You Need to See? Said the Governor.” The New York Times. The New York Times, June 24, 1973. https://www.nytimes.com/1973/06/24/archives/how-many-trees-do-you-need-….
Increasing focus on the health of our existing forests and in tree planting efforts are often seen as signs of changing tides in the fight against the Climate Crisis. This attention, while certainly advantageous, can become a distraction from the necessary work of decarbonizing the economy. A singular focus on afforestation allows fossil-fuel companies like Shell to claim planting 700 million trees in the Amazon will keep warming under 1.5C and to say nothing of their historical and continued role in deepening the groves of inequality that coincide with the effects of the Climate Crisis. 24 Projects which allow fossil fuel companies to join-in and still operate are not achieving climate justice, they are simply greenwashing the exploitative practices of the fossil-fuel industries. Reducing deforestation and new afforestation projects are integral parts of addressing the Climate Crisis, but they must be accompanied by a global reconfiguration of the socio-economic patterns that continue to subsidize oil and gas extraction at the expense of global people, forests, and their health.
- 24 Ibid.