More than two dozen countries including the UK have formed a partnership committed to halting and reversing forest loss this decade as part of the climate fight.
Speaking at the Cop27 talks in Egypt, Rishi Sunak said protecting forests was “one of the best ways of getting us back on track” to limit warming to 1.5C – the threshold beyond which the worst impacts of climate change will be felt.
He said the launch of a new partnership to tackle deforestation at Cop27 marked a “moment of great hope for the world’s forests”.
The partnership is aimed at building on the commitment made by more than 140 countries at last year’s Cop26 summit in Glasgow to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.
It sees countries including the US, UK and Norway, alongside important forest nations such as Gabon, Colombia and the Republic of Congo, signing up to drive delivery on the pledges.
The UK has announced £90 million for conservation in the Congo Basin in Africa. This vital rainforest is a key carbon store, and home to thousands of plant species and endangered animals, including forest elephants, chimpanzees and mountain gorillas, but is highly threatened by deforestation and development.
Britain is also pledging a further £65 million for funding to support indigenous people and local communities at the heart of forest protection.
The partnership, chaired by the US and Ghana, includes countries which account for 60% of global GDP and 33% of the world’s forests.
Mr Sunak said: “For too long, the world’s forests have been undervalued and underestimated.
“They are one of the great natural wonders of our world – just think about all the ecosystems they support, the plant life, the wildlife, the medicines waiting to be discovered, the flood protection they offer, the homes they provide to indigenous people.
“And with the loss of our forests accounting for more than 10% of global emissions, protecting them is one of the best ways of getting us back on track to 1.5C.”
Mr Sunak said countries must keep their promises on tackling the issue, and there was a need to mobilise billions of dollars of private finance, working with the private sector and philanthropists, and with local communities and indigenous people to address the economic drivers of deforestation.
British officials said that public donors had already spent 2.67 billion US dollars (£2.32 billion) of the 12 billion US dollars (£10.43 billion) pledged last year to protect and restore forests between 2021 and 2025, and at Cop27, a further 4.5 billion US dollars (£3.9 billion) will be committed.
The partnership comes as the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warned the world is not on track to achieve the goal of ending and reversing deforestation by 2030, as a critical component of limiting global warming to 1.5C.
In its latest report on climate action, the UNEP said that as part of efforts to meet climate goals, the world needs to mobilise funds to pay for the equivalent of a billion tonnes – one gigaton – of high-quality emissions reductions from forests between 2020-2025 and yearly after that.
But the report, which focuses on the UN’s emissions reduction programme from forests known as REDD plus, said only 24% of the necessary private and public commitments to meet those emissions reductions have been made, and funding has not been delivered.
Susan Gardner from UNEP, speaking on behalf of the Green Gigaton Challenge which set the milestone, said: “We urgently need to scale up action and finance for forest-based mitigation to achieve the 2025 one gigaton milestone and avert catastrophic climate change.
“If we succeed, and the new Forest and Climate Leaders Partnership is a promising sign of ambition, then vital targets for climate and nature remain within reach.”