Agreement has encouraging breadth of signatories but lacks teeth and accompanying financial pledges dwarfed by money flowing from banks and investors to forest-wrecking companies

London & Glasgow, 2 November 2021 - Today’s announcement at COP26 of the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use and other measures to halt and reverse global forest loss by 2030 show the growing international momentum regarding the urgent need to tackle deforestation, one of the key drivers of the climate crisis. 

However, it remains unclear how governments and financial institutions will be held to these new pledges, signalling the same accountability gap that has been the fatal flaw of similar commitments in the past. Moreover, the financial support pales in comparison to the vast sums of money flowing from global banks and investors  to deforestation-linked companies.

“While the Glasgow Declaration has an impressive range of signatories from across forest-rich countries, large consumer markets and financial centres, it nevertheless risks being a reiteration of previous failed commitments if it lacks teeth,” said Jo Blackman, Head of Forests Policy and Advocacy at Global Witness. 

“If global leaders are serious about stopping forest destruction then they must back up today’s announcements with a commitment to bring in strong and binding national legislation that makes it illegal for companies and financial institutions to fuel deforestation,” she continued.

Today’s Glasgow Declaration follows in the footsteps of the New York Declaration on Forests from 2014, where governments committed to halve deforestation by 2020 and halt it by 2030. They failed to meet the 2020 target and are off track for the 2030 target so far. 

As part of today’s Forests and Land Use announcements, CEOs from more than 30 financial institutions have pledged to eliminate investment in activities linked to deforestation. However, a number of banks also already committed and failed to meet previous zero net deforestation targets by 2020, under the Soft Commodities Compact. 

“Previous commitments by governments, companies and banks have all failed to stop deforestation and it remains to be seen if and how today’s new pledges will be different,” said Blackman.

According to the UK government, today’s forests commitments are accompanied by almost £14 billion ($19.2 billion) in public and private funding and the promise of increased support for Indigenous Peoples and local communities. However, our latest report identified over ten times that amount being poured into companies driving deforestation and associated human rights abuses. 

Our recent analysis found that banks and investors in the UK, EU, US, and China ploughed $157 billion since the Paris Climate Agreement into agribusiness firms linked to tropical deforestation and associated human rights abuses, netting an estimated $1.74 billion in income along the way. Many of these banks have no-deforestation policies, have committed to align with the Paris goals or are signatories of the Soft Commodities Compact.

“Today’s financial pledges to support forests are dwarfed by the flows of private finance to forest-wrecking companies,” Blackman added. 

While we welcome more money going to protect the world’s forests and the Indigenous Peoples and communities who depend on and defend them, these efforts risk being fatally undermined by the continued ability of financial institutions to bankroll and profit from deforestation and associated human rights abuses with impunity.

“As long as destructive agribusinesses and global financial institutions continue to fuel and make money from global deforestation without facing any consequences, these precious ecosystems, carbon sinks and homes to forest communities will keep on being razed and burned at alarming rates. That is why, for all their talk of ‘forest-positive’ finance, governments need to focus on cutting off the negative money pipeline fuelling forest destruction and human rights abuses,” said Blackman

Global Witness is calling for today’s COP26 commitments to be backed up by strong mandatory due diligence legislation in countries that are driving global deforestation through their consumption and financing, including the US, UK, EU and China. To be effective, these laws must cover all forms of deforestation and all forest-risk agricultural commodities, include the financial sector, protect human rights and mandate effective sanctions for those who fail to comply with the rules.

“Ultimately, the question is whether today’s headline-grabbing announcements on deforestation will end up amounting to more of the same empty promises or if they will be followed up with the real regulatory action that is so urgently needed,” concluded Blackman.