More than 100 world leaders have committed to reverse and end deforestation by 2030 in COP26 climate summit’s first major deal.

More than 100 world leaders, representing 85% of the world’s forests, have pledged to end and reverse deforestation by the end of the decade, in a historic declaration at the UN climate conference in Glasgow on Tuesday. 

Brazil, Russia, Colombia, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are among the countries that have signed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use, and will promise to stop and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030. 

In what Britain calls to be the first substantial deal to come out of the two-week long climate summit, the declaration will see forest areas ranging from the eastern Siberian taiga to the Congo basin and the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, protected to reduce carbon emissions. 

Deforestation is one of the biggest threats to the world’s biodiversity and exacerbating the effects of climate change. Forests have a significant role to play in combating the climate crisis. They act as carbon sinks and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Land clearing for agricultural purposes including palm oil, soy and beef production, degrades forests, causing the ecosystem to lose its ability to absorb and eventually become sources of carbon, which currently accounts for 11% of global emissions.  

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The international pledge will include $19.2 billion worth of private and public funds. 12 countries including the UK – and host country of COP26 – will allocate $12 billion of public funds from 2021 through 2025 to restore degraded land, supporting indigenous communities, and mitigate wildfire damage. $7.2 billion will come from new private finance, including companies and philanthropies, to support initiatives such as deforestation-free soy and cattle production in South America, and scaling up investments in tree planting and other nature-based solutions. 

In a separate announcement,  governments and philanthropists will also be directly offering at least $1.7bn to indigenous peoples and local communities for their role in protecting forests.

The historic declaration is completely voluntary and does not form part of the Paris Agreement, but the UK hopes to see more deals and pledges throughout the rest of the conference, including issues on methane emissions – a greenhouse gas that has an even higher warming power than carbon dioxide – cars, and coal.

“Today, at COP26, leaders have signed a landmark agreement to protect and restore the earth’s forests,” said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “These great teeming ecosystems  – these cathedrals of nature – are the lungs of our planet. Forests support communities, livelihoods and food supply, and absorb the carbon we pump into the atmosphere. They are essential to our very survival.”

“With today’s unprecedented pledges, we will have a chance to end humanity’s long history as nature’s conqueror, and instead become its custodian.” 

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