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ClientEarth Communications

8th August 2019

Climate accountability
Communities & forests

IPCC report shows need for strong national laws to halt global forest disaster

Environmental lawyers are warning national governments that only strong national laws can properly protect forests, store carbon emissions and ensure the livelihood of forest-dependent communities, in response to today’s land use report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

ClientEarth's legal experts have said that ineffectual voluntary commitments to stop the disastrous impact commodities such as palm oil, soy, beef and cocoa have on global forests are simply not working and must be reinforced by binding laws.

The IPCC report confirms that conversion of forests to agriculture is one of the main drivers of deforestation and urges a transition in global land use, towards greater protection of forests.

Caroline Haywood is a Law and Policy Advisor at our London office. She said: “As the IPCC report shows, the world is currently losing the battle to stop forests being lost to commodities such as palm oil, soy, cocoa, beef and minerals. Research shows that voluntary commitments have simply failed to halt or even slow deforestation in many tropical regions of the world.

“Forests being converted to such commodities is currently the largest cause of global deforestation and a major concern for the global community to limit catastrophic climate change, and for local communities that rely on these forests for their livelihood and culture.”

Many voluntary agreements – such as those set out in the New York Declaration on Forests and by the Consumer Goods Forum – have a target date of 2020 but their goal to stop, or even halve, deforestation is nowhere near to being reached.

The warning echoes an article Caroline wrote with Senior Law and Policy Advisor Clotilde Henriot, which was published last month in the leading academic journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change.

It detailed how robust laws are essential in countries where forests are rapidly being converted into commodities – including Brazil, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Liberia, Peru, Republic of Congo and Vietnam. This is alongside demand-side regulation from consumers such as the US and the EU.

Deforestation: voluntary codes not enough

Co-author Clotilde said: “Voluntary commitments are not working around the world, but sadly neither are current national laws in many tropical countries.

“Rather than the current situation of businesses or government choosing which voluntary measures they will comply with, we need demand-side regulation and robust laws in supply-side countries – in particular those countries whose forests are currently being devastated by commodity conversion.”

As part of setting national laws, positive measures can include:

  • Improving records so authorities know whether land allocated for development contains forests
  • Introducing permits for any developer to apply for when wanting to clear forested land
  • Setting clear legal conditions on the forests that can be converted, and those that cannot
  • Demanding environmental and social impact assessments for conversion projects
  • Reforming national laws so that impacted communities and civil society groups can participate in setting regulations
  • Ensuring strong enforcement