Justine Greening: Forests and climate change in the post-2015 agenda

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speech at the Ford Foundation event on forests and climate change during the 2014 UN General Assembly.


Thank you for that introduction. And thank you to our hosts the Ford Foundation. It’s a pleasure to be speaking here today.

There can be absolutely no doubt that climate change is one of the most urgent and pressing challenges that we face.

Without action in the coming decades the world will get hungrier, poorer and more dangerous.

And it is undoubtedly in my mind the very poorest who will be hit first and hardest by climate change.

In the end an overheating planet affects us all. We can see this very clearly when it comes to the loss of our forests, the focus of today’s event. Not only is deforestation the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire global transport sector. It is a disaster for the 1 billion plus people who depend on forests for food, fuel and for a living.

For those of us working in development, climate change has the potential to halt, and worst of all, undo the progress we have made these last two decades.

So, a focus on poverty reduction and climate and environment are now two sides of the same coin. There is no point in building a health clinic for poor people in Bangladesh on a floodplain 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.

Unarguably global economic growth has been responsible for lifting unprecedented numbers out of poverty in the last twenty years. But unless we take action, climate change will have a devastating economic impact that pushes those gains back. It is estimated that in some countries climate related risks could cost up to 19% of GDP per annum by 2030.

Eventually the effects of this will be felt far beyond the borders of the countries involved. In a world of interconnected economies, climate change has the potential to disrupt global prosperity.

That’s why climate change is on the global agenda. World leaders including the UK’s Prime Minister will attend the UN Secretary General’s climate summit tomorrow. The UN Climate Summit in Paris next year will be a critical moment.

And we have 12 months to make sure the next set of development goals are climate smart, and that there is a ‘green thread’ of sustainability running through the post-2015 framework.

This is truly an agenda where there is no time to be lost. Where we all have a responsibility to act. So today I want to set out how all of us – humanitarian, development and climate actors; governments of developing and governments of developed countries; whether small farmers or multinational companies - can play our parts in tackling climate change and, particularly, deforestation.

The challenge and the opportunity

I am ensuring that my own Department for International Development is making reducing carbon emissions, reducing the impact of climate change and tackling deforestation a core part of our business.

This is a challenge, but, as I’ll also set out, it presents us with real opportunities as well.

An opportunity to build the resilience of people, communities and businesses.

An opportunity to help governments use their natural resources sustainably and ensure the billion people who rely on our planet’s forests have a fairer deal.

An opportunity to provide millions of homes and businesses with cleaner, safer energy.

And an opportunity to build new partnerships between governments and businesses that can drive sustainable growth and jobs.

Building resilience

So how can we seize these opportunities? We urgently need to help the poorest people in the world adapt to the effects of climate change on their lives and livelihoods.

We know that the total number of natural disasters has quadrupled in the last two decades, and increasingly extreme poverty is going to be focused in areas that are vulnerable to natural disaster.

The UK is already supporting programmes that build the resilience of people, businesses and communities.

In East Africa where droughts ruin harvests, threaten lives and destroy livelihoods we have helped introduce 11 new drought-resistant maize varieties. In Bangladesh we have supported the development of so-called scuba rice that will thrive in wet conditions.

Tackling deforestation is another key part of our resilience work. We know that deforestation makes the communities who depend on forests far more vulnerable to natural disasters.

Look at the hill 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 those local communities take back control of their forests through a £20 million programme that ensures communities get secure, clear use rights over forest resources.

About 40% of forest land in Nepal is now under community control. Putting these communities back in control has meant that deforestation has virtually ended in these areas, and many degraded hill slopes are now being reforested, reducing the risks of landslides and flooding.

And the impact has been even wider than that. This has meant that not only are these communities less vulnerable to flooding, millions of Nepalese, including women and lower caste groups, now have secure tenure and a guaranteed supply of wood for cooking and fodder for their livestock.


That very much brings me to the next point I want to make. Good governance is a pre-requisite for tackling climate change. And by supporting governments to use their natural resources in a sustainable way, we can improve the chances of some of the poorest, most marginalised people in the world.

We know that where communities have formal rights over their forests, deforestation rates are much lower than in areas overseen by governments and companies.

But weak governance, ambiguous and unjust laws and contested use of land mean that community rights over forests are still the exception rather than the norm in too many countries.

In response the UK is working with a number of countries on a global programme to strengthen governance in the forest sector, tackle illegal logging and support communities to secure clear rights to the forests on which they depend.

The Forest Governance, Markets and Climate programme is having a transformational impact in countries like Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia.

Last year the Liberian president intervened to stop illegal timber extraction permits being issued, preventing significant loss of state revenue and damage to forest livelihoods. This emerged after an investigation by NGO watchdogs that were supported and empowered through this UK programme.

I am announcing today that Britain will commit an additional £84 million, or $137 million dollars, to this programme over the next 3 years.

That’s going to allow us to scale up our work supporting governance reform and trade in legal timber in the 15 countries we already support, and extend our work to new countries that need assistance.

We’ll also be going beyond tackling illegal timber trade, and looking at other commodities such as palm oil, soya and beef. Because we know that many cattle pastures and plantations for palm oil and soya are sited on land that was illegally cleared of forest. Tackling this is going to be complex and so we’ll also be working hard to get others to act alongside us, including with major emerging markets, which have a big influence on forest exploitation in developing countries.

Cleaner, safer energy

These programmes would already be vital for improving livelihoods, even if we didn’t already have the need to reduce carbon emissions. So climate change simply makes this work all the more necessary.

This is also true in terms of the case for clean energy. I’ve said we should focus on helping countries to exploit the benefits of clean energy technologies, not only to reduce the risk of further climate change but to help light homes, cook food and power businesses.

We can’t ignore the fact that forests will continue to be a key source of fuel. We can’t ignore the fact that 2 billion people around the world depend entirely on wood energy.

So as well as helping these communities to regulate forest harvesting and manage their forests in a more sustainable way, we can encourage them to use a clean and safe source of fuel.

And we have done with the UK’s award-winning work with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. That’s is helping to improve the design and performance of clean cookstoves, by supporting new technologies and business models which lower the costs and widen access. This has particular benefits for women and children. And as many of you will be aware, improving prospects for women and girls is also a core mission for the Department for International Development.

Working with the private sector

This is all progress, but we need to go further and faster.

And I’ve said that we need a global partnership, between developed and developing countries, between businesses, civil society and local communities all working together to combat the effects of climate change.

When it comes to deforestation this means developed countries getting our own house in order as part of that. And I’m proud that the UK government was the first of 8 EU governments to introduce a public procurement policy that requires central government departments to procure “legal and sustainable” timber.

The UK has also set out a commitment to purchase 100% of palm oil from credibly certified sources by 2015. I want to strongly encourage other governments to take similar steps.

And increasingly the private sector is recognizing the need to stop deforestation.

A major British home improvement store, B&Q, reached a goal of selling 100% sustainable timber in 2011. Unilever, the world’s largest buyer of palm oil, has a commitment to the sustainable sourcing of all its raw materials by 2015.

I believe it is important to support businesses taking a lead on this and so I’m announcing today that we are investing £60 million, or around $97 million dollars, 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. And we want to work with smallholder farmers to help them comply with these new market requirements and produce palm oil, timber and other agricultural commodities in ways that do not cause further deforestation.

We know that smallholder oil palm farmers are getting around half of the yield that they should be when compared to professionally run plantations. So by supporting investments to improve the smallholder’s productivity of their existing plantations, we can help these farmers increase their yields without having to clear more forest.

So it makes sense for businesses to play their part in this, in order to ensure that key resources that their business models depend on do not run out in the future.

We will also be funding local civil society organisations to help forest-dependent communities to acquire rights over their forests and to manage them sustainably for the benefit of the whole community. The Ford Foundation are pioneers of this approach, and I hope that this programme will provide an opportunity for our two organisations to work together on this issue going forward.

Finally, we’ll be looking to fund ways to mediate disputes between communities and companies over who has rights to forest land. Conflict over land hurts communities and local businesses and indeed resolving land conflict is often an essential first step to tackling the challenge of deforestation.


As I said at the beginning, tackling climate change and deforestation is a challenge for all of us. But it’s very much a shared responsibility.

And that’s incredibly difficult. Because it is about changing the world, from its current path to one that’s different, a sustainable path. And you can’t ask anyone to single-handedly ‘change the world’.

But what we all can do is take responsibility for our own actions, for our own organisations and we can all take on that challenge, and we all have our own role to play.

To governments, it’s critical that we get the right deal at the UN Climate Change Summit in Paris next year, and back an international agreement to hold the increase in global average temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels.

To NGOs and civil society, you have an essential role in holding governments to account, exposing and advocating against corrupt and illegal activities. We also need your help as we scale up our work on community forestry.

To businesses, we need you to use your influence and your leverage over farmers in your supply chains and we need you to support them to change their practices for good. As I’ve set out we’re ready to work alongside you on this, but we can’t do it for you, we have to work with you.

Finally to everyone connected to development we must get a next set of development goals for tackling poverty that are climate smart. We’ve got 12 months now to agree ambitious targets for protecting our forests and other natural resources. I don’t think there will be any second chances to get this right.

Ultimately we cannot defeat poverty without being climate smart. And as I’ve set out, if we take the right actions we can not only reduce carbon emissions. We can also bring jobs, justice, opportunities and prosperity to the very poorest.

Put simply, for me, tackling climate change is indivisible from tackling poverty.

Thank you.