International forests

International forests

Climate change has thrust the decades-long fight against deforestation back into the international spotlight, and rightly so. Deforestation is an urgent problem that has wide repercussions. The loss of forests worldwide accounts for between 15 and 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and forests are critical to regulating the climate, both locally and globally. But forests are not merely the lungs of the earth -- they are also the greatest repositories of biological and cultural diversity on earth, and home to 350 million people, including at least 60 million indigenous peoples who have protected and defended forests since time immemorial.

Friends of the Earth’s International Forests program works to address the root causes of forest destruction and the marginalization of forest-dwelling communities. We do this through our campaign on Land grabs, forests & finance, and our work to challenge forest carbon offsets

Landgrabs, forests & finance

One of the fastest growing drivers of deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and displacement of forest-dwelling communities is the expansion of palm oil plantations across the tropics for the production of food, fuel and cosmetics. The expansion of palm oil plantations has led to massive forest destruction and ongoing conflicts with indigenous groups and local communities. In turn, key drivers of this trend include investments in large-scale land acquisitions (often referred to as ‘land grabbing’), the rapid rise in both commodity prices and commodity speculation, and the exponential growth of biofuel use and investment -- trends that can be expected to continue for the foreseeable future, unless curbed through targeted action by governments, environmental rights advocates, and civil society groups.

Analysis by Friends of the Earth U.S.’s International Forests Program has led us to determine that our best hope of success in deterring deforestation is to take a three-pronged approach by:

  1. Focusing on the economic drivers of deforestation, and directly targeting the finance sector;
  2. Influencing global investment rules to end the land grabbing trend; and
  3. Promoting policies and practices that strengthen the resource rights of forest peoples, foster biocultural diversity, and build capacity for rights-based land and forest governance.

Deforestation Free Investment campaign

Because the palm oil industry is financed in part by investment firms in the U.S. and Europe, dirty palm oil linked to deforestation and conflict could be in your retirement fund, your mutual fund, your IRA, or your school’s endowment. Due to the massive recent expansion of the palm oil industry, which relies on large areas of land to generate profits, palm oil production has become the fastest growing cause of deforestation in the world today – and deforestation due to industrial agriculture is second only to fossil fuel combustion as a leading driver of global climate change.  Friends of the Earth’s Deforestation Free Investment campaign follows the money and engages individual and institutional investors to #DefundDeforestation

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Burning peat in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia in 2015. Photo credit: Victor Barro, Friends of the Earth Spain

Forests and climate

In climate change policy-making arenas, a mechanism called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD and REDD+) is being held up as a cheap, easy and fast way to reduce greenhouse gases by creating financial incentives, in the form of carbon credits, to compel those engaged in deforestation or forest degradation to switch to less damaging activities. However, the current focus on counting carbon stored in trees misses the forest for the trees. There are many cases where substantial international funds have been allocated to saving forests, but to little effect – and REDD is in danger of repeating this failed pattern. Even worse, allowing polluting industries in wealthy countries, like the United States, to purchase carbon credits instead of reducing their own emissions will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions in those countries most responsible causing the climate crisis. (Read about California’s efforts to implement REDD here.) Through our efforts to challenge the perverse incentives and troubling human rights concerns associated with REDD, Friends of the Earth continues to demonstrate why forests are poorly suited to carbon offset trading, and to advance more effective solutions to halt forest loss.

For more in-depth information on palm oil, land grabs and financing for forest destruction, see these issue briefs and reports below:

Issue briefs and fact sheets

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