COP26 forests declaration must strengthen rights of local communities

RECOFTC welcomes the announcement by world leaders of a new commitment to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030, but warns that the leaders’ declaration must translate into genuine protection of the rights of people who depend on forests.
Sir David Attenborough speaks at the Opening Ceremony for Cop26 at the SEC, Glasgow. Photo by COP26/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use was announced at COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference, on 2 November 2021. To date, 134 countries and the European Union have endorsed it. Together, they have 90 percent of the planet’s forests. 

The pledge was accompanied by announcements of US$19.2 billion in public and private funding, including US$1.7 billion to advance recognition of the tenure rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities and reward these people for protecting forests and nature. Meanwhile, more than 30 financial institutions with over US$8.7 trillion of assets also committed to eliminate investment in activities linked to deforestation.

However, the Leaders’ Declaration has little detail on how its signatories will address the drivers of deforestation and restore degraded land. It has no concrete targets and says nothing about how countries will report on their progress. 

“The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration is an important statement of intent that goes further than previous commitments and encompasses a far larger number of countries, including both producers and consumers of commodities that are driving deforestation” said David Ganz, executive director of RECOFTC. “The financial commitments are also impressive. But countries must now make clear how they will put their commitments into practice.” 

In Southeast Asia, almost half of all greenhouse gas emissions come from the forestry and land use sectors. Between 2001 and 2019, the region lost 610,000 square kilometres of forest—an area almost the size of Myanmar. 

“To end these emissions, countries must give Indigenous Peoples and local communities a seat at the table when designing their policies and actions on forests and climate change,” said Ganz. “They must also have a prominent role in implementation, as well as financial and other forms of support to enable them to do this.”

While the Leaders’ Declaration recognizes that support to such groups is necessary and makes reference to their rights, it provides no further detail about how its signatories will protect those rights. RECOFTC’s experiences show that community or social forestry can play a significant role as a nature-based solution to climate change, poverty and biodiversity loss.

Community forestry can play a significant role as a nature-based solution to climate change, poverty and biodiversity loss.

“Our research has revealed positive outcomes for both human well-being and forest condition in places where local communities play a central role in forest management and protection, such as when they have substantial influence over decision making or when local institutions regulating tenure form a recognized part of governance,” said Ronnakorn Triraganon, RECOFTC’s senior strategic advisor.

“For the Glasgow Leader’s Declaration to make a difference, its signatories must recognize the important role of communities in managing forests for multiple uses and benefits—including carbon capture,” he said. “To protect existing natural forests and rehabilitate and expand other forest areas, countries must secure and implement the land tenure and resource use rights of Indigenous Peoples and local people, without exception.”

In the ASEAN region, 13.8 million hectares of forest land are legally managed by communities and smallholders. This area has doubled since 2010. If ASEAN Member States reach their social forestry targets for 2030, local communities will manage a combined area of more than 30 million hectares. That would be nearly a 500 percent increase since 2010. 

“Some of the new funding announced at COP26 could help ASEAN Member States to achieve these targets by accelerating their recognition of community rights to local forests,” said Ganz. “Forest communities hold the solutions to protecting the world's most biodiverse ecosystems yet only one percent of global climate finance is reaching Indigenous Peoples, traditional owners and local communities.”

This funding gap is why RECOFTC has joined the Peoples Forest Partnership, a global initiative to support Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ calls to recognize their rights and stewardship and to create equitable, accessible mechanisms to engage with climate and conservation finance. 

“In Asia, community forestry has shown its worth in carbon sequestration, in supporting community and ecosystem adaptation to climate impacts, in offering opportunities for enhanced income and for providing a mechanism for participatory processes, equity and locally accountable governance,” said Ganz. “Community forestry is a proven nature-based solution. Let’s use it.”


RECOFTC's work is made possible with the continuous support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).