man standing in palm oil plantation in Indonesia

The COP26 pledge to halt deforestation is riddled with hypocrisy and loopholes that risk allowing corporations and historically big polluting countries to keep emitting fossil fuels while claiming to tackle climate change by investing in forests. The finance pledges are eerily similar to discredited REDD+ initiatives which in the last ten years have failed to stop climate change and caused large scale land grabbing and land rights violations globally.

For example 200 Million GBP of UK Government finance is going to the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance (LEAF) Coalition which will sell carbon credits for avoided deforestation. It invites corporations to use the initiative to achieve their own climate targets – essentially to offset rather than stop emitting. A plethora of companies including Amazon, Delta Airlines, Bayer, Unilever and Black Rock have signed up who, together, will need vast areas of land in the global South to supposedly offset their planned emissions expansions.

Global leaders have made such lofty announcements before, like the New York Declaration to halt deforestation by 2030, which was followed by huge rises in deforestation, or the Bonn Challenge to restore 350 million hectares of degraded land, of which just under 50% was found to be industrial tree plantations – a disaster for people and planet.

This pledge is vague, making it impossible to enforce its implementation and hold governments to account. It is designed to fail if it is linked to carbon market mechanisms, offsets or relies on private finance to drive change rather than strong regulatory action to stop deforestation and implement the rights of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and small scale food producers thorough binding Human Rights instruments such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of peasants and other people Working in rural areas (UNDROP), as well as their Free, Prior and Informed Consent and right to say no.

Countries signed up to the pledge are collectively driving deforestation through for example the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement which will increase beef imports to the EU by 50% – a crucial driver of Amazon deforestation. Brazil, another signatory, is engaged in a large offensive against Indigenous Peoples’ rights in Brazil, even while pledging to support them here in Glasgow. Without regulations to stop deforestation, there is no way to halt it. Particular emphasis needs to be put on corporate actors and their expansion of agrocommodities, as well as for fossil fuel extraction, mining and big infrastructure works. Those corporations who continue to violate peoples’ rights need to be held to account.

We don’t need to “achieve a balance between anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and removal by sinks” as the COP26 pledge claims. Rather, we need immediate and deep cuts to carbon emissions and polluting activities such as plantations, industrial agriculture and extractive industries, as well as the preservation of forests, other ecosystems and the rights of the Indigenous Peoples and local communities who do protect them. We need developed countries to commit trillions in climate finance, not linked to offsets or market schemes and in addition to any overseas development funding.

Image: Palm oil plantations, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia © Victor Barro