Last year, the planet lost more than 30 million acres of tree cover—an area roughly 38 times larger than Rhode Island—including around 10 million acres of tropical rainforest. For years, governments and companies have promised to stop deforestation and failed. But as the climate crisis worsens, more money than ever is now going into the effort. To have any chance of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, deforestation will need to end.
More than 100 global leaders, representing 85% of the world’s forests, have just pledged to stop and reverse deforestation by the end of the decade, using $12 billion in public funding and another $7.2 billion in private investment. (The list includes countries that weren’t part of previous pledges, such as Russia, Brazil and China.) The pledges include $1.7 billion that will go to indigenous communities to protect forests. More than 30 financial institutions said that they would stop investing in companies that are causing deforestation.
One part of the global effort is the LEAF Coalition, an organization that will use corporate funding to pay countries to keep forests standing, and it’s announcing that it just raised $1 billion so far from companies including Amazon, Salesforce, Nestle, and Delta Air Lines. LEAF will work by rewarding governments that prove that they’ve protected a particular area of forest. A country or state might create a new protected area, for example, or improve enforcement, or set up a program to give residents a new way to make money so they can stop logging or expanding agriculture. When a government proves that they’ve successfully taken action, and continues to prove that the forest stays standing over time using a global standard for monitoring and measurement called TREES, it can get annual payments through the program. “The payments really provide the assurance of long-term revenue,” says Eron Bloomgarden, executive director of LEAF.
Companies can participate in the program after publicly reporting their emissions, setting a science-based target to reduce emissions in line with the goal of the Paris climate agreement, joining the UN Race to Zero campaign, and giving an independently audited report on how they use carbon credits. The program can also generate carbon credits through whatever actions are taken to protect forests. In some cases, Bloomgarden says, companies are choosing to fund the program but “retiring” the carbon credits that are earned so they won’t be used as offsets. Others are using the credits to help reach their net zero goals. (The governments of Norway, the U.K., and the U.S. may also provide funding if more is needed, and won’t use the carbon credits.)
So far, 23 countries with more than a billion acres of forests have submitted proposals to the coalition. Payments will begin after a roughly year-long process to verify reductions. The coalition aims to begin with preventing 100 million tons of emissions. “But to put that in perspective, we think that we need a gigaton per year to really deliver on the forests’ ability to keep us on a 1.5-degree pathway,” says Bloomgarden. “What we’re doing is, I mean, it’s big on its own, it’s important, but it’s also a proof of concept. So we’re not stopping here. This is the beginning. We want to go 10x and then 50x, hopefully. That’s where we need to be.”