Global demand for soft commodities like food and timber, and for mined commodities like fossil fuels and mined materials, continues to drive expansion of agriculture, extractive industries, and other land uses into forests. Deforestation is often enabled by the establishment of infrastructure, intentionally or unintentionally opening access to forests. The gravest forest risk comes from so-called megaprojects, which combine multiple types of transportation and energy infrastructure, along with sites of agricultural commodity production, natural resource extraction, and planned urbanization. Such projects are currently underway or planned in all major tropical forest regions.
Forests are under threat not only from global markets, but also from growing demand due to populations in forest areas and urban centers. Billions of people, particularly Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPs and LCs), rely on forests for their subsistence or pursue small-scale commercial activities that sustain livelihoods. These activities, too, can lead to deforestation or permanent degradation when demand pressure outpaces the rate of regeneration.
We are not on track to achieve the private sector goal to eliminate deforestation from agricultural supply chains by 2025. Commodity-driven tree cover loss declined by 6 percent in 2021 compared to previous years (2018-20), but deforestation rates are still higher than in any year before 2016 and are far from the trajectory (20% reduction per year) needed to reach the 2025 target (see Figure).
Almost all national governments have adopted ambitious forest goals under the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 indicating broad alignment with the aim of achieving sustainable production and development. Dozens of developing countries have forest strategies in the context of REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), laying the groundwork for important reforms—and, in some cases, driving important policy changes. In most cases, however, these programs have not yet yielded a reduction in deforestation, and only a handful of countries have received payments for forest emission reductions.
In most countries, governments have yet to make the bold sectoral reforms needed to protect forests. There is limited transparency on how policymakers integrate forest goals into their decision-making, and how they seek to avoid and mitigate forest risks across economic sectors. Land use policies – such as fiscal incentives, environmental and social impact assessments, and protected area regulations – often fail to integrate forest concerns, have loopholes in their design, or are weakly enforced. Even governments that have adopted “green growth” agendas still struggle to invest in economic growth that is aligned with forest goals.
Figure: Commodity driven deforestation, in million hectares, and the pathway toward 2025
Encouragingly, development interventions such as community forestry, payments for environmental services schemes, and extension services for farmers can address both poverty reduction and deforestation and forest degradation. However, there are very few examples of government-led poverty reduction programs that both prioritize forest impacts and are implemented at scale. An analysis of 23 countries found that most have community or collective forestry schemes in place, but only a few provide robust land tenure or promote economic development.
Similarly, the agriculture sector has not made sufficient progress in reducing deforestation from agricultural commodity production. Since the first NYDF Progress Assessment report in 2016, we have seen little progress removing deforestation from supply chains (NYDF Goal 2), and the transformative potential of voluntary company action has not yet been realized. To date, only a quarter of major global companies in the sector have announced a clear, comprehensive, and ambitious policy to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains; of those, only a few have made significant progress on implementation. Less than 20 percent of companies disclosing to CDP report near complete compliance with their zero deforestation commitments.
Corporate action in the extractives sector also remains limited. In response to investor demand, most mining companies have now adopted some form of corporate social responsibility or environmental, social, and governance approach, but these frameworks rarely include an explicit focus on forests. The pace of implementing responsible mining practices" by leading companies has slowed since 2020 compared to the proceeding years. Few companies have adopted voluntary mining sector sustainability standards that require them to address direct, indirect, and cumulative forest impacts. The mining sector recently made positive strides by adopting policies and standards that address biodiversity impacts, but overall transparency and actions to address forest impacts still lag significantly behind the agriculture sector. IPs and LCs stand at the forefront of grassroots environmentalism despite significant risks. IPs and LCs often work together with civil society organizations, smallholder farmer coalitions, and women’s networks to combat threats to forests from development projects, extractives, or agricultural expansion. These actors employ various forms of social resistance, but with limited success – only 1 in 10 bottom-up mobilizations against environmentally destructive and socially conflictive projects are successful in stopping their target project. These successes come at a cost: 200 land and environmental defenders were killed in 2021, and the mining and extractives sector is consistently ranked as one of the deadliest for defenders.
To ensure that 2025 and 2030 do not pass as 2020 did – with limited progress toward global forest goals – governments, companies, and civil society must collaborate to accelerate forest action, supported by transparency and accountability.
The Forest Declaration Assessment Partners urge the endorsers of the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration, as well as other pledgers, to ensure full transparency on the implementation of pledges, so that progress can be tracked and pledgers held accountable. Pledgers must all set clear interim milestones and provide publicly accessible reporting.
Public, private, and grassroots actors must prioritize collaboration to leverage relative roles and strengths to meet the 2025 target for commodity-driven deforestation. Where certain geographies and supply chains have achieved reductions, the credit can usually be shared between government mandates, company action, and civil society and grassroots initiatives. All actors should accelerate implementation of multifunctional landscape and jurisdictional programs that take an integrative, inclusive, and collaborative approach to addressing forest risks and impacts while driving sustainable economic growth.
Governments must carefully consider whether voluntary action is a viable foundation to achieve the 2030 forest goals, and how the role of mandatory action, disclosure, and accountability should be increased. Despite the exceptional success of a few privately led initiatives—notably the Amazon Soy Moratorium, which has led to lasting and substantial deforestation reductions—voluntary actions alone have not sufficiently shifted the trajectory of forest loss.
Companies need to urgently increase the scope and stringency of corporate action, whether voluntary or mandated. Companies who wish to lead the charge toward the 2025 and 2030 forest goals should advocate at local, national, and international levels for holistic approaches to addressing deforestation; approaches where corporate action is enabled and supported by appropriate legislative and policy frameworks, trade standards, and financial instruments and incentive structures.
Only eight years remain to achieve the twin global goals of halting and reversing deforestation by 2030. Despite encouraging signs, not a single global indicator is on track to meet these 2030 goals of of stopping forest loss and degradation and restoring 350 million hectares of forest landscape.
The 2022 Forest Declaration Assessment sheds a stark light on the state of global forest commitments but offers hope that achieving the 2030 forest goals is possible. The Assessment is presented as series of four reports on Overarching forest goals (Theme 1), Sustainable production and development (Theme 2), Finance for forests (Theme 3), and Forest governance (Theme 4) -- all summarized in an Executive Summary.
Source data for Figure 4 is incorrect in the published report. The source should instead be "CDP disclosure data 2021."
The quote from Guilherme Ferreira de Souza in Table 2 is incorrect due to an editing error. The quote should read:
"Deforestation has ended everything. All the hunting is gone.... [Estrondo guards] don’t respect anything; they don’t respect the law. We have been abandoned by the justice system, but we are not going to leave."