UN passes deforestation agreement

In 16 years, most of our first-years will have been born in 2012, our seniors will be the class of 2030 and the United Nations agreement to end deforestation will finally take effect.

At the U.N. Climate Summit on Sept. 22, 130 entities, including many governments and multinational companies, agreed to the New York Declaration on Forests. They plans to cut deforestation by half by 2020 and halt it completely by 2030.

But 2030 is a long way away.

“By 2030, there may not be any forests left to save,” said senior environmental studies major Jon Macemore. “In one year, one company can wipe out a forest the size of a river basin.”

In many countries, lack of environmental intervention means continued deterioration, and the effects are not only environmental.

“Schools are being closed in Sumatra due to the haze caused by devastating forest fires,” according to Greenpeace. “The world’s forests and forest-dependent peoples cannot afford further delays of meaningful action.”

Furthermore, there may be a battle to enforce the non-binding agreement when 2030 finally comes.

“There’s a lot of struggle right now among environmentalists as to whether or not these large international agreements are the way to go,” said Associate Professor of Political Science and Co-Chair of the Environmental Studies department Kyle Dell. “Instead of going for the politically attractive international agreement, sometimes we just have to ask ourselves what actually works.”

Part of this is due to the U.N. ultimately having no power to police nations that choose not to follow the declaration, which is entirely voluntary.

“There’s just too great of an incentive to miss your targets when there’s no consequence, whether a benefit or a penalty,” said Dell. “It’s really difficult to understand how to overcome the problems of collective action without enforcing it.”

Environmental organizations like Greenpeace are not on board, refusing to sign on in protest.

“We need strong laws to protect forests and people, as well as better enforcement of existing laws,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo in an interview with the REDD-Monitor. “The New York Declaration is missing ambitious targets and tangible actions.”

Additionally, nations that are known for its large forests — like Brazil — have not signed the declaration.

“Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said the country was not included in the preparation process for the declaration and pointed out the futility of having a global forest initiative without Brazil,” said the Forest Carbon News.

One alternative to international agreements is local education.

“We need to educate people so they understand logging isn’t just a short-term solution to get some money,” said Sustainability Coordinator Bronwyn Tucker. “It’s a bigger socioeconomic problem in the places that we’re really concerned about.”

The governments of affected countries also need to take their economic situation into consideration.

That deforestation plan would have to look more like a ‘let’s take care of our people’ plan so they don’t have to rely on logging to make money,” said Tucker.

Regardless of the problems with the agreement, there is something to be said for the fact that the U.N. has devoted itself to end deforestation at all.

“The summit actually created some sort of environmental commitments,” said Macemore. “That’s pretty historical.”

If participants comply with the agreement, we should start to see effects long before 2030.

“The New York Declaration aims to reduce more climate pollution each year than the United States emits annually,” said Secretary General of the U.N. Ban Ki-moon in a statement at the U.N. “I asked for countries and companies to bring bold pledges, and here they are. The actions agreed (to) today will reduce poverty, enhance food security, improve the rule of law, secure the rights of indigenous peoples and benefit communities around the world.”