We must work with businesses to stamp out deforestation

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Justine Greening underlines the government's commitment to helping communities around the world phase out deforestation

Climate change is one of the most urgent and pressing challenges that the global community faces today. Without action the world will get hungrier, poorer and more unstable.

For those of us working in development, climate change has the potential to halt and potentially undo the huge progress we have made in the last two decades. It is estimated that in some countries, climate related risks could cost up to 19 per cent of GDP per annum by 2030. The truth is that poverty reduction and climate change are two sides of the same coin. There is no point in building a health clinic for poor people in Bangladesh if it will get washed away by the next floods, or farmers investing in crop technologies which will be made redundant by a changing climate.

An overheating planet affects all of us and we can see this clearly when it comes to the loss of our forests. Not only is deforestation the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, it is a disaster for the one billion people who depend on forests for food, fuel and a living.

Tackling deforestation is a key area for the UK's Department for International Development's resilience work. We know that deforestation makes the communities who depend on forests far more vulnerable to natural disasters. Compounding this is the fact that the number of natural disasters has quadrupled in the last two decades.

To alleviate the effects of climate change and deforestation, the UK is already working on building the resilience of people, businesses and communities to ensure that the poorest people in the world can adapt their lives and livelihoods to the changing environment.

An example of this is our work with the communities in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal, where landslides and flash floods damage houses and destroy crops. The UK is working with the Nepalese Government to help local people take control of their forests through a £20m programme that ensures communities get secure, clear use rights over forest resources. Approximately 40 per cent of forest land in Nepal is now under community control. Deforestation has virtually ended in these areas and many degraded hill slopes are now being reforested, reducing the risks of landslides and flooding in the future.

We cannot ignore the fact that forests will continue to be a key source of fuel, with two billion people around the world depending entirely on wood energy. As well as helping these communities to regulate forest harvesting and manage their forests in a more sustainable way, we are encouraging them to use clean and safe sources of energy.

The nature of the global economy means we must also work with businesses to drive fundamental change in deforestation. It is important that the UK supports the private sector in taking a lead on this issue. A supporting case is the achievement by British DIY retailer B&Q, which now only sells 100 per cent sustainable timber. Unilever, the world's largest buyer of palm oil, has made a similar commitment to the sustainable sourcing of all its raw materials by 2015.

The UK will support businesses pursuing these kinds of initiatives, and so we are investing £60m in a new UK programme 'Investments in Forests and Sustainable Land Use'. Through this programme we will set up partnerships with those companies that are committed to taking deforestation out of their supply chains.

Tackling climate change and deforestation is a challenge for the entire global community. Governments, civil society, communities and the private sector must work together on what is a shared responsibility because ultimately, we cannot defeat poverty without being climate smart.

The Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for International Development

This article is part of the BusinessGreen Zero Deforestation Debate

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