‘Overpledging’ and underperforming? Reflecting on international commitments for nature

The last few years have arguably seen some landmark commitments to protect our environment, most recently the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework which commits to ‘protecting 30 percent of earth’s lands, oceans, coastal areas, and inland waters by 2030’. While not lacking ambition, such commitments share a common issue: their size in ambitions and numbers may obscure their traceability, or even more important, their actual feasibility.

Indeed, there is progress on addressing deforestation over the last two decades. Climate Focus’s latest reports on the Global and Regional Forest Declaration Assessment finds that, with regard to forests, countries across the globe increasingly develop and adopt new laws and policies to protect and sustainably manage forests. Yet the rate of present-day loss in forests and natural landscapes is unprecedented. One persisting issue that may explain this is that new laws and policies are often bold in words and regulations but weak in implementation; they lack detail, are in early stages of development, and may overlap or create inconsistencies with other laws and policies. Beyond implementation, means for traceability also remain limited; pledges for restoration and forest conservation are not well monitored or efforts may be dispersed across state, non-state, and international entities, with a lack of coherency further blurring a view on (lagging) progress.

To make progress and commitments on forest and landscape conservation tangible, current and future high-level commitments should alter their language–rather than solely providing a number or an obscure statement, they should also include a description or commitment to practical means to achieve them. I would like to think international pledges can be rephrased or revised, for example the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework might look like ‘by 2030, each country has an established agency and monitoring system to ensure commitment to protecting 30 percent of earth’s lands, oceans, coastal areas, and inland waters’.

In the end, the means committed to protect the environment is what truly reflects ambition, rather than the commitment itself.