Govts, agribusiness make climate commitments at COP26 on soy, palm

2 Nov 2021 | John McGarrity

World leaders at COP26 climate talks have committed to end deforestation and encourage the planting of new trees, a move that was joined by companies promising to strip unsustainable palm oil and soybean out their supply chains.

In what is being heralded by the organisers as a major breakthrough at the UN climate summit in Glasgow, more than 100 national leaders – including those from major producing countries of soybean and palm oil – signed the commitment that host-state UK said would cover 85% of the world’s forested areas.

But the deal will require much more in the way of detail and robust enforcement if it is to succeed in its aims, climate policy analysts have pointed out, and have cited the example of an intergovernmental agreement in 2014 that failed to slow the pace of deforestation.   

In the text of the commitment, signatories agreed to take 6 steps to end deforestation, including an undertaking to “facilitate trade and development policies, internationally and domestically, that promote sustainable development.”

The 100 world leaders also agreed to pursue “sustainable commodity production and consumption, that work to countries’ mutual benefit, and that do not drive deforestation and land degradation.”

The agreement has also promised to hasten the flow of finance from rich to poorer countries so that these nations can invest in a transition from practices that have led to forest loss.

The UK government said in a statement that the pledge is backed by almost £14 billion ($19.2 billion) in public and private funding.

A part of the private-sector side of the initiative, chief executives from more than 30 financial institutions with over $8.7 trillion of global assets, including Aviva, Schroders and Axa, said they would also commit to eliminate investment in activities linked to deforestation.

As part of the announcements on deforestation at COP26 on Tuesday, almost 30 governments representing 75% of global trade in key commodities that threaten forests, signed up to a statement designed to deliver sustainable trade and reduce tree loss.

Among the commitments are support for smallholder farmers and improving the transparency of supply chains.

That announcement was joined by a declaration by 10 of the largest companies that manage over half of global trade in key forest-risk commodities such as palm oil and soy.

The declaration was signed by ‘ABCD’ agribusiness majors as well as southeast Asian commodities companies Wilmar and Golden Agri Resources, in which they promised by COP27 next year to publish a blueprint on supply chain “consistent with a 1.5C pathway”.

NGOs said the deals signed on Tuesday would do little to stem deforestation in the near-term, with Greenpeace saying that these announcements were “a green light for another decade of forest destruction.”

“There’s a very good reason Bolsonaro felt comfortable signing on to this new deal. It allows another decade of forest destruction and isn’t binding," Greenpeace Brazil’s executive director Carolina Pasquali said in statement.

Reducing the role of agriculture and commodities used as animal feed, edible oils and biofuels in deforestation and climate change has been a key aim of UN climate talks for over two decades.

But producer countries say that developed countries have failed to provide sufficient funds and logistical assistance to divert farmers from land use change.

Rich countries, in turn, have said previously that they are willing to assist but large-scale funding will require detailed environmental auditing, transparent supply chains, and robust action in commodities-producing countries to prevent forest destruction.