Terry Slavin asks whether all the programmes and finance announced last week will reach the smallholder farmers and indigenous people on the frontlines of protecting forests in tropical countries
The first week of COP26 saw a slew of announcements from countries, investors and corporates promising unprecedented amounts of finance for forests, a development that World Resources Institute's Craig Hanson described as being on par with the Paris Agreement for nature.
The biggest news was 134 leaders committing to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 through the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use. This was backed by pledges of $19.2bn in public and private funds, including $12bn from 12 signatory countries through the Global Forest Finance Pledge (GFFP).
An assessment found that since 2010 countries have spent on average $2.4bn a year for forest and climate goals, when up to $460bn per year may be needed
The Glasgow agreement covers around 91% of the world's forests and, crucially, includes Brazil, Russia and China, which had not signed up to the New York Declaration in 2014. That voluntary agreement by 40 countries aimed to halve deforestation by 2020, and halt it by 2030, though deforestation has actually increased rather than decreased since the declaration was signed, and has been accelerating due to the impact of Covid.
Separately, the UK, Norway, Germany, the U.S. and the Netherlands, in partnership with 17 funders, pledged to invest $1.7bn over the next five years to help indigenous and local communities protect biodiversity, particularly by helping them establish land rights.
And 11 donor countries, together with the Bezos Earth Fund, pledged at least $1.5bn to support efforts to reverse forest loss by 2030 in the Congo Basin, funding climate mitigation and adaptation and addressing the drivers of forest loss.
Another significant announcement came from the Leaf Coalition, a public-private partnership between the governments of the UK, U.S. and Norway and 15 corporates to raise $1bn a year in REDD+ finance to reduce deforestation in tropical forests, while helping companies meet their net-zero commitments.
Emergent, the U.S. non-profit that is acting as the transaction intermediary for the coalition, said 23 jurisdictions whose self-reported emissions reductions amount to several times Leaf’s initial goal of 100 million tonnes of emissions reductions had submitted eligible proposals, and at COP26 Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ghana, Nepal and Vietnam signed the first letters of intent.
Justin Adams, executive director of the World Economic Forum's Tropical Forest Alliance, speaking at a We Mean Business panel discussion, hailed it as an historic week for nature agenda: “What this COP has done more than any previous COP is highlighted that there is no path to 1.5C without transforming our food and land use sector and putting nature at the heart of the transition. . .. I've never been as hopeful about the future as today.”
We’re going to have to turn $700bn in agricultural subsidies that are mostly driving nature the wrong way and channel them into nature positive outcomes
He pointed to unprecedented interest by both companies and the finance sector: 30 leading financial institutions, with over $8.7tn under management, committed to phase out deforestation impacts in their investee supply chains by 2025, while the Sustainable Markets Initiative's Natural Capital Investment Alliance announced 12 new members and plans to mobilise $10bn in private capital for nature by the end of 2022.
But he said such funding is still nowhere near the amount that will be needed for forests to play their part in helping the world avert disastrous climate change. A new report from the UN Race to Zero and the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (Gfanz), said at least $150bn per year may be required across agriculture, food and land use over the coming decades, while the NYDF assessment report put the bill much higher, at $460bn per year.
“This will need massive amounts of investment, 10 times or 100 times from what they are today," Adams said. "And we're going to have to turn $700bn in agricultural subsidies that are mostly driving nature the wrong way and channel them into nature positive outcomes.”
But Adams acknowledged that the Glasgow declaration will only succeed if all the programmes and finance announced last week reach the millions of smallholder farmers and indigenous people in tropical countries, who have long struggled to achieve a living wage and gain tenure over land, and are now on the front line of increasingly severe impacts of climate change as well as Covid-19.
New research from the Fairtrade Foundation finds that just 2% of climate finance goes to the world’s 500 million family farms, which supply 80% of the world’s food, and live in abject poverty. Paul Ferrari of Heifer International estimates that farmers supplying the multibillion-dollar coffee industry, for example, earn just 2 cents for every $5 latte purchased.
“We will fail unless we bring people into the heart of this," Adams said. "It's often the very poorest people who live in these rural landscapes. They will be the heroes of this future if we are to succeed, so it's about how can we support them.”
By 2030, Regen10 aims for 50% of the world's agricultural land to be farmed in a way that reverses nature loss
He added that assurance and monitoring and transparent reporting would be key. “Making sure that they are genuinely positive for nature and for people is going to be critical.”
Supporting the world's 500 million smallholder farmers is the objective behind another highly ambitious initiative launched at COP26, Regen10, an action plan by WBCSD and 12 other partners to help the world's smallholder farmers apply regenerative production methods, backed by the deployment of $60bn per year in finance.
By 2030, Regen10 aims for 50% of the world's agricultural land to be farmed in a way that reverses nature loss and supports the decarbonisation goals of the Paris Agreement.
Diane Holdorf, chair of Regen10, said in one panel discussion that there would be a big focus on lifting incomes for farmers: “It's super important that they receive fair income for that, and making sure there's equitable value distribution.”
There was more support for smallholder farmers this week, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledging another $315m to the CGIAR global agriculture research partnership to help smallholder farmers adapt to climate threats, and $141m from the Green Climate Fund and the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development to aid farmers in the Sahel region of West Africa.
But while there was plenty on offer to help smallholder farmers, there was far less for the world's 370 million to 500 million indigenous people, whose customary lands hold some 80% of the planet’s remaining biodiversity and at least 24% of the world´s tropical forest carbon, but have received less than 1% of climate finance.
The evidence is overwhelming that indigenous peoples and local communities are forests’ most effective guardians
A recent report from Primsa found that deforestation rates in indigenous territories in the Amazon are two to three times lower than in similar non-indigenous lands across several South American countries. Yet indigenous people have secure tenure over only 10% of the lands they occupy under customary ownership, and at least a quarter of their lands are under threat from industrial agriculture and illegal activities like logging, mining and hunting.
Helping indigenous people to gain secure tenure rights has been identified as a priority for climate mitigation by the UNFCCC, and by Zac Goldsmith, the UK’s Minister of State for the Environment, who said in announcing the $1.7bn fund for indigenous people: “The evidence is overwhelming that indigenous peoples and local communities are forests’ most effective guardians, often in the face of acute danger, and so they should be at the heart of nature-based solutions to the climate emergency.”
While indigenous groups welcomed the announcement of funding, and the UK's promotion of their cause, it was clear from conversations with indigenous leaders at COP26 that there was scepticism about whether the money will ever get to them.
According to Rainforest Foundation Norway, only $270m is earmarked for projects supporting Indigenous peoples and local communities on average per year, and of that, only $46.3m goes to them directly. This has bred a deep distrust of the international conservation groups, through which most of the funding flows, and which have only belatedly open their doors to working with indigenous groups. It was only in 2016 that the IUCN created a partnership category for indigenous organisations.
Dr Solange Bandiaky-Badji, coordinator of the Rights and Resources Group, welcomed what she called a new momentum towards funding indigenous people “but we need to unpack what that means: who is designing it, where is the money going, who is defining the agenda? Local communities need to define their own agendas, because if we do the old traditional approach it won't work.”
Mina Setra, of the Indigenous Peoples' Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) in Indonesia, said: “We have to work as allies. Pledges can only work if indigenous people are involved in managing these pledges and have a role in decision-making at all levels.”
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, president of the Association for indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad, said in one panel discussion that it must be “real money on the table” that comes directly to communities – unlike the promised $100bn in climate finance for developing countries, which rich countries have so far failed to meet.
Our people are dying. We need this money to change the lives of the people who are already impacted by the climate
“Indigenous people protect 80% of the world’s biodiversity, but they [rich countries] decide for us what we should do? That is not right. We should be sitting at the table giving them the guidance and doing the capacity-building.”
However, COP 26 also saw the launch of a new coalition called the Peoples Forest Partnership, which said it aims to mobilize $20bn in funding per year by 2030 directly to indigenous community-driven forest conservation and restoration projects. The facilitating members of the coalition are Forests Trends, RECOFTC, Wildlife Works Carbon, Everland and Green Collar, which collectively represent a portfolio of community-based forest conservation projects in more than a dozen countries across Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“The platform will support both performance-based payments (such as for carbon credits) as well as other climate funding mechanisms,” said the press release. “[This includes] a financing facility specifically focused on strengthening territorial governance to be managed by partnership member Forest Trends.”
In an interview, Shyla Raghav, vice president of climate change at Conservation International, said there was a lot of ambiguity surrounding much of the finance pledged last week for nature: “We need to demand more transparency on how that funding is going to be deployed, and ensure that it is new and additional."
Asked how much of total funding package of $19bn that was pledged last week would go to indigenous groups and local communities, she said Conservation International commits that 50% of revenues for carbon projects go to the people implementing them on the ground.
But she agreed that conservation groups had to work hard to address the trust deficit with indigenous communities, something that would require greater transparency and making sure there is free and prior consent. “No decisions about land use should be made without local communities being informed and actually involved in them. When it comes to benefit-sharing, those models should be designed with communities rather than prescribing how they should be used.”
Main picture: Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim of the Association for indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad with Zac Goldsmith, UK Minister for Pacific and the Environment. (Credit: Terry Slavin)
COP26 Indigenous Peoples Glasgoe leaders' declaraion on forests and land use global forest finance pledge biodiversity WEF Tropical forest alliance We Mean Business UN Race to Zero GFANZ Regen10 Paris Agreement deforestation