At this time, most of us are well aware of the situation we find ourselves in: The three planetary crises impacting all life on earth as we know it. Climate change, nature, biodiversity, pollution and waste crises have become very critical. These crises, caused by our unsustainable consumption and production are undermining the natural foundations of human existence. The devastating COVID-19 pandemic, is obviously closely linked to these crises.
Different responsible organizations and scholars have been exerting their efforts to save the world from the very threatening climate change. Recently, in her speech prepared to be delivered at the webinar organized by the United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat, UN DESA on the margins of the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, titled "Forests at the heart of a green recovery from COVID-19" Inger Andersen, has forwarded three policy steps with determination.
The Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, Inger Andersen, has shown the impact of the policies on climate change and why governments should pay attention to it amid the pandemic COVID-19.
"I think that by now, we are also all aware that we have a window of opportunity for a green recovery from the pandemic. We simply cannot go back to our pre-pandemic nature and climate destructive practices.
We need the stimulus packages to have green strings attached. But there is much we can do and many measures that governments can take to stimulate a green recovery. Promoting healthy and restored forests will have to feature strongly," she emphasized.
"This is because without halting and reversing deforestation, climate, biodiversity and sustainability goals cannot be met," she reasons out. Land conversion due to deforestation, agricultural practices and other land use activities causes approximately 23 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. IPBES estimates that deforestation and other land degradation costs the world 10 percent of global GDP every year in lost ecosystems services such as preventing harmful nutrient run-off into streams or decreasing the effects of floods.
Healthy forests reduce the risk of future pandemics by creating buffer zones that reduce human-wildlife interactions and conflicts.
"Despite the widely known benefits, forest cover is still declining. Yes, while the rate of deforestation has slowed in recent years, we are still moving in a negative direction and between 2015-2020, a forest area the size of Portugal was still lost every year," she justified further.
To reverse this trend, the recovery from the pandemic must support the transition laid out in the Convention on Biological Diversity's Global Biodiversity Outlook: Conserving intact ecosystems, restoring ecosystems, reversing degradation, and employing landscape-level spatial planning.
But how, specifically, do we do this? "We need to take three policy steps with determination," indicating the roles of policymakers.
First, "we need to reform agriculture, the largest cause of deforestation." Agriculture subsidies and other public support runs at over USD 700 billion a year, with only around 15 percent targeted at public goods. A shift in policy priorities could move agriculture away from deforestation and into restorative and regenerative agriculture, nature-positive agriculture and therefore towards the restoration of degraded lands.
The UNEP and Rabobank AGRI3 fund, with USD 1 billion available in loans to farmers, is supporting COVID-19 economic recovery by accelerating shifts towards sustainable agriculture. But this needs to be scaled up and replicated on a massive scale.
A shift towards regenerative agriculture is possible. It is already beginning. For example, India plans to move to a new system called 'Zero Budget Natural Farming' which has been successfully introduced in Andhra Pradesh State. With over 260,000 ha farmed under this approach so far, it has had remarkable returns, accompanied by increases in small-holder farmer income, while phasing out synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
Secondly, "we must find ways to unlock private sector investments to fund forest conservation and restoration;" she urges with consent. Forests and other nature-based solutions represent one-third of the solution to climate change but receive less than three percent of climate finance. Large amounts have of course been invested in new technologies and new energy infrastructure.
However, it is important that we get carbon markets moving and that we send a strong signal to incentivize the first gigatonne in private-sector forest investments, through a combination of emission reductions from avoided deforestation and carbon removals from forest restoration.
Unlocking a first green gigatonne requires USD 10 to 15 billion of investments. To get there, performance-based payments for forest conservation and restoration should be scaled up and the price of forest carbon through REDD+ should obviously reflect the costs of policies and other measures for avoided deforestation.
UNEP is a proud partner of the UN-REDD Programme, the UN Flagship programme on forest action, helping 65 developing countries to better conserve, manage and restore their forests. A global carbon market combined with a sustainable and fair price for forest carbon would make a massive difference to these countries' efforts.
"We at UNEP, together with our FAO colleagues and crowding in many partners from across the world, look forward to the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) as the Decade will provide us a global platform to spur investment," she indicated the commitment of her programme.
And thirdly, "we absolutely must back multilateralism to boost action. Next year gives us an opportunity to join the biodiversity and climate agendas under the umbrella of the SDGs. The post-2020 global framework for biodiversity, and nature-based climate solutions like REDD+ in the Paris Agreement, are starting to get the attention they deserve. If we harness political will, investments will follow.
We need to aim for nothing less than a multi-billion USD annual flow of investments into forest conservation and restoration.
If this sounds too ambitious, it is not. In the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt deployed hundreds of thousands of unemployed American to plant billions of trees. In the 1950s, South Korea responded to famine and a refugee crisis by restoring forests and landscapes. Massive restoration is underway today with the Great Green Wall, an 8,000-kilometer long ecosystem innovation along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. "This is the scale we must aim for," she insists recalling the past.
Furthermore, she says, "the difference between the right and wrong policies is huge." The Food and Land Use Coalition found that 1.2 billion hectares of land used for agriculture could be freed up for restoration by 2050 with the right incentives and signals.
"If we follow current agricultural practices and trends, however, a further 400 million hectares of natural ecosystems will be converted from forest lands to agricultural lands. This is simply unsustainable.
Put bluntly, either we get it wrong and push the world deeper into trouble, or we get it right and deliver benefits for biodiversity, the climate, jobs, economies and human health. The choice is clear."