A Post-COP Conversation

November 23, 2021

After a frenetic two weeks for RFUK and our local partners at the climate talks in Glasgow, we reflect on some of the gains, the losses, and the next steps in striving to put tropical forests and their traditional guardians at the heart of the international climate agenda. 

A declaration by 137 countries promising to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030 made the headlines but was crucially lacking in detail. To avoid repeating the failures of previous global pledges, we believe that several things must now happen: 

First, leaders need to act on the increasing evidence (and the Rainforest Foundation’s founding principle) of the vital role of indigenous peoples and other local communities in protecting tropical forests. While the announcement of a new fund to advance community land rights marks an important milestone, this still represents only a fraction of annual climate funding or subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. Our work is now to ensure this support reaches those working on the frontlines of tropical deforestation. 

Second is the need to rethink the root causes of tropical forest loss. The presentation of preliminary results from an FAO study into the direct and indirect drivers of deforestation in the Congo Basin started to unpick the long-held assumptions about the role of subsistence farming, while two new RFUK reports have pointed to the growing impact of infrastructure development and so-called ‘selective’ logging. These must now be reflected in future interventions. 

Thirdly, we must address the issue of our own consumption in the Global North. Here, COP26 fell well short of the UK government’s stated aim of ‘keeping 1.5 degrees alive.’ Instead of stronger regulation to decarbonise our economies, we saw a rebranding of controversial carbon offset schemes that too often fail to reduce forest loss while enabling polluting countries and companies to avoid having to make necessary emissions reductions at source. RFUK has played a key role in highlighting the climate and human rights risks of such schemes, and while we were disappointed with the response of the COP President Alok Sharma to our concerns, we will continue to document their impacts on the ground and hold their promoters to account. 

In an important win, while negotiations played out in Glasgow, RFUK successfully campaigned to stop the imminent lifting of the national moratorium on new logging concessions in DRC, which would imperil tens of millions of hectares of forest. Although the ban is likely to come under renewed pressure, we would like to thank the 100,000 people, 45 Congolese and international NGOs, and the scientific community who supported this huge effort.  

And if strong, research-led campaigns are part of RFUK’s DNA, then so is advancing laws, participatory methods, technologies and partnerships that empower communities to protect their forest home. On this front, our community forest programme received an important boost at the COP with the DRC government committing to doubling the area under community forest management to at least 5 million hectares – an area more than twice the size of Wales. 

This and our other ground-breaking programmes in the Peruvian Amazon, West and Central Africa are increasingly recognised as a template for advancing social justice and environmental protection, and as we look ahead to the urgent changes which need to be made, we will continue to expose and tackle major threats to tropical forests. 

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