Phu Kradueng, Phu Kaew, and Nam Nao have recently been nominated for ASEAN Heritage Park, part of the country's efforts to increase protection for the forested area. 22% of the country's forest area is the protected area. Credit: DNP

Thailand to take part in the global forest and land use protection declaration, almost five-month delay in action

The new commitment will further support the long-term national strategy to increase the country’s forest cover by 55% as well as the country’s commitment to the net-zero emissions and carbon neutrality by mid-century as declared at COP26, according to Monre

The Cabinet last week had received the proposal concerning the issue for consideration from the Ministry of Natural resources and Environment (Monre) before approving it to endorse the country to engage in the global forest and land use protection declaration known as the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use. The declaration was first proposed at the UN climate change conference, COP26, held in Glasgow in the UK late last year as another effort to combat climate change.

Forest and land use as well as agriculture contributed to the global share of greenhouse gas emissions around 22%, or 13 GtCO2e out of about 59 GtCO2e in 2019, the latest IPCC mitigation report noted. At the same time, it is widely accepted that the sector could help cut up to 30% of the total emissions as it acts as one prime global carbon sink.

Thailand, however, had failed to immediately engage with other major forested countries in signing up for the declaration when it was first proposed, citing the cabinet approval as a pre-condition for the country’s engagement.

It has taken Thailand almost five months since COP26 to agree to take part in the initiative. Monre noted that the proposal followed the decisions made earlier by two national committees on climate change and forestry alongside other concerned agencies including the National Parks and the Royal Forestry Departments, which had convened in mid-March and raised no objections to the proposal.

According to Monre, the new commitment to this global forest protection declaration will further support the work under the 20-year national strategy that aims to raise the country’s forest cover to 55% of the country’s total area.

In 2010, Thailand had 19.1 million ha of natural forest, extending over 37% of its land area. In 2020, it lost 119,000 ha of natural forest (743, 750 rai), equivalent to 68.1Mt of CO2 emissions, according to the Global Forest Watch. At present, the forest cover of the country is reported to stand at around 102 million rai or 31.6%.

The commitment will also help the country accomplish its pledges to reach the net-zero emissions by 2050 and carbon neutrality by 2065 as declared by Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha at COP26, according to Monre.

“This also means the country’s good image and increased role in the international arena in conserving forests and sustaining good land use practice,” noted Monre.

Credit: UK Presidency/ COP26

The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use

At COP26, major forested countries like Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Indonesia, as well as major powers like the US, China, and the EU joined the UK, which was the conference presidency, in leading the sign-up for the declaration seen as the first and foremost attempt to push for the deep cut goals on GHG emissions for the next decade.

GHG emissions cuts are deeply required at around 45% by 2030 and net-zero by 2050 to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5C.

While a series of declarations and statements outside the Paris Agreement to help cut GHG emissions were proposed at the conference, the forest declaration one was among the first and foremost attempts of the conference party members. Shortly after the immediate issuance, up to 133 countries had signed it up, covering over 90% of the world’s forests or around 3.6 billion hectares. The number of signatories is now reported at 141.

Under the declaration pushed by the UK, the countries first emphasized the critical and interdependent roles of forests of all types, biodiversity, and sustainable land use in enabling the world to meet its sustainable development goals. This, they declared, was to help achieve a balance between anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and removal by sinks and to adapt to climate change and maintain other ecosystem services.  

They then reaffirmed their commitments to three UN conventions born during the same period of the 1990s; be they the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), plus the Paris Agreement as well as the Sustainable Development Goals.

Especially, they reaffirmed their commitments to sustainable land use, and the conservation, protection, sustainable management, and restoration of forests and other terrestrial ecosystems. 

Recognising that to meet those will require transformative further action in the interconnected areas of sustainable production and consumption and support of smallholders, Indigenous Peoples, and local communities, who they said “depend on forests for their livelihoods and have a key role in their stewardship”. 

The leaders in the joint declaration then declared their commitment through their signing to work collectively to “halt and reverse” forest loss and land degradation by 2030 while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation.  

These meant shared efforts on various actions including conserving forests and other terrestrial ecosystems and accelerating their restoration; facilitating trade and development policies that promote sustainable development; reducing vulnerabilities and building resilience especially among the rural population while recognizing their rights following the related legal frameworks; redesigning agricultural policies that are environmental-friendly, and among others.

“We urge all leaders to join forces in a sustainable land-use transition. This is essential to meeting the Paris Agreement goals, including reducing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5C, noting that the science shows the further acceleration of efforts is needed if we are to collectively keep 1.5C within reach.

“Together we can succeed in fighting climate change, delivering resilient and inclusive growth, and halting and reversing forest loss and land degradation,” read the declaration.

COP26 President Alok Sharma said of the joint declaration in the press release, saying; “Forests are one of our best defences against catastrophic climate change, and essential to keeping 1.5C alive. This historic commitment will help end the devastating effects of deforestation and support the developing countries and indigenous communities who are the guardians of so much of the world’s forests.”

Some ecologists and forest governance experts, however, cautiously welcomed the declaration, pointing to the previous similar deals that have failed to deliver although they said major countries including the US, China, the EU as well as other major forested countries like Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Indonesia were on board.

For instance, the Director-General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Robert Nasi, said of the forest pledges, saying while the pledges were inspirational and encouraging, success would require them to be converted into actions better than in the past.

“And also that we organize a just and equitable transition from a fossil-fuel-based economy to a bio-based and renewables economy. We must develop a framework and reporting mechanism to ensure these promises are met,” said Mr. Nasi. “If we aren’t careful, we could still lose our forests as the impact of climate change is felt through wildfires or pathogens, without ever bringing in the axe or the chainsaw.”

The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use

Also read: The State of the World’s Forests 2020