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COP26: Will the promised tree planting and deforestation actually happen?

The COP26 agreement lacks any clear and verifiable methods for reaching the new goals.

The women guarding India's rainforest 'refugees'
As deforestation and climate change ravage India's UNESCO heritage-listed Western Ghats mountain range, an all-female rainforest force is battling to protect one of the area's last enclaves of biodiversity - Copyright AFP Manjunath Kiran
As deforestation and climate change ravage India's UNESCO heritage-listed Western Ghats mountain range, an all-female rainforest force is battling to protect one of the area's last enclaves of biodiversity - Copyright AFP Manjunath Kiran

The jury is out as to whether COP26 was a success. It certainly has not delivered everything that featured in the build-up to the event, although some impactful measures were announced from plans to phase out public finance for coal-fired power, to a pledge to end deforestation.

Following COP26, a new environment act comes into force in the UK, with similar measures being adopted in many countries (these that attended and took the conference seriously). The UK legislation sets out to improve air and water quality, tackle waste, increase recycling, halt the decline of species, and improve the natural environment.

The legislation has been treated cautiously by climate experts. For example, Dr Veronica Edmonds-Brown, Aquatic Ecologist, University of Hertfordshire states: “It’s certainly better than the original, mostly due to active lobbying from wildlife organisations such as the Wildlife Trusts. Having legally-binding 2030 species abundance targets may help reduce our losses and is very much welcomed.”

However, there are some downsides, as the academic points out: “On the negative side, the Office for Environmental Protection was promised to be completely independent and this has been undermined.” In particular, the measure presented provide “no indication that the Environment Agency or Natural England will have the funding to ensure they can deliver on the Act.”

As an example of one of the positive features, the BBC reports on a woodland of 13,000 trees to be planted on Exmoor, located in the south-west of England. The first 300 of 13,000 trees have been planted at a site near Winsford in Somerset by volunteers. This help lock away about 2,600 tonnes of carbon during the first 100 years.

The UK was one of 130 countries pledging to reverse forest-loss and land degradation by 2030 (the “Declaration on Forests and Land Use”). While this will be welcomed by environmentalists, the science publication Nature points out that all previous commitments remain unfulfilled and “latest target is unlikely to be met without an enforcement mechanism.”

Furthermore, without changes to lifestyle the goals may be unrealizable. This is the message from Greenpeace UK. The environmental organization indicates that the pledge is futile because the causes of deforestation have not been addressed. The organization states in a Tweet: “It’s simple. World leaders can’t commit to ‘end deforestation by 2030’ if we don’t cut down one of the main drivers of #deforestation: meat and dairy consumption.”

In addition, Louis Verchot, who is head of research for landscape restoration for the Bioversity International Alliance, in conversation with the website SciDev.Net, expressed a concern that the agreement lacks any clear and verifiable methods for reaching the new 2030 goal.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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