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2 November 2021

The Cop26 deforestation agreement is big – but it shows the challenge facing world leaders

The green movement needs to be politically realistic without stoking a coalition between those in despair and denial.

By Stephen Bush

World leaders have agreed a new accord to halt and reverse deforestation. Although similar agreements have been reached before, not only are Joe Biden and Xi Jinping (the leaders of the world’s two largest economies) among the signatories, so too are the leaders of the world’s major forested countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Papua New Guinea and Brazil, the president of which, Jair Bolsonaro, has until now been reluctant to commit to protecting the Amazon rainforest.

As I wrote yesterday, Boris Johnson needs a successful Cop26 for two reasons. The first and most important are the incredibly high stakes for the UK and the world. But the second is that internal Tory critics of Britain’s ambitious 2050 net-zero target will use either failure or perceived failure at Cop26 to argue against any or all of the more controversial and difficult parts of the UK’s target. 

That’s why the spin war over India’s commitment to reach net zero by 2070 is important. Yes, it’s true to say that it is 20 years later than the target many of the world’s most developed economies now have, and 20 years later than the UK hoped. But it’s also the first major commitment by the world’s third-largest polluter and a major diplomatic achievement for Cop26.

That’s the big challenge not only for the Prime Minister but for the green movement here and across the world: how to balance a realistic assessment of how far the world has to go at and after Cop26, without creating a new coalition between people in despair and people in denial about the scale of the task.

[See also: Can we trust world leaders’ pledge to end deforestation?]

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