High Forest, Low Deforestation (HFLD) countries and jurisdictions are those with very extensive, ecologically intact forests and low past rates of deforestation. While public and private finance for all nature-based solutions to climate change has been inadequate, the situation is especially daunting for HFLD countries and jurisdictions looking to conserve their forests. These places face significant additional barriers in accessing finance, since climate funding mechanisms have so far prioritized payments to areas that start with high past deforestation rates and then bring them under control.

WCS believes this is a gap in finance mechanisms (such as the REDD+ framework) that urgently needs correcting by environmental policy-makers. HFLD areas like Gabon, Suriname, Guyana and the Republic of the Congo maintain vast, irreplaceable carbon stocks and active carbon sinks, but many of these countries and jurisdictions do not have sufficient capacity, or the right economic incentives, to protect these forests from rising external threats. Providing timely incentives to these places could catalyze transformations to sustainable green growth trajectories, which would avoid runaway deforestation before it gets going.

It is well-documented in the scientific literature that new frontiers of forest loss can emerge in places that have no recent history of deforestation. In many HFLD forest countries and jurisdictions across the Amazon, the Congo Basin, the countries of Southeast Asia and the Pacific and elsewhere, forests are under rising threat from drivers such as economic growth, infrastructure expansion, demographic trends, and globalized demand for commodities, further exacerbated by climate change. The combined emissions from losses at these new frontiers are significant and have been grossly under-reported: for example, the carbon impacts from the loss of intact tropical forest landscapes between 2000 and 2013 were found to be as much as six times higher than previously thought, when calculated through a full carbon accounting approach that included a wider range of degradation impacts as well as forgone carbon removals to 2050.

The success of HFLD countries and jurisdictions to date in retaining large, highly intact forests should not be taken for granted — their lands are too valuable and the potential threats to forests too high to imagine that they will continue to keep their forests standing indefinitely without adequate financial incentives from the global community. Failure to recognize and reward the positive results being achieved by HFLD forest countries and jurisdictions would be a costly and irreversible mistake.

We have a critical opportunity to increase the flow of climate finance to HFLD countries and jurisdictions– through the public-private LEAF Coalition announced at President Biden’s climate summit in April. In its first phase the Coalition aims to mobilize at least $1 billion USD in finance for high-quality emissions reductions from tropical and subtropical forest countries. Participants include the governments of Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as leading companies such as Amazon, Airbnb, Bayer, Boston Consulting Group, GSK, McKinsey, Nestlé, Salesforce, and Unilever.

Emission reductions transacted through LEAF will be verified by the ART TREES standard. WCS and fellow Forests for Life partners welcome revisions in the TREES 2.0 standard that would reward HFLD countries and jurisdictions for keeping their rates of deforestation and forest degradation low. HFLD countries and jurisdictions that receive recognition and support of this kind for their conservation results are more likely to continue and enhance their efforts, avoiding accelerating future emissions and contributing to the global stabilization of the climate by maintaining their forest carbon sinks.

WCS is confident that this HFLD crediting pathway will lead to more robust protections for tropical forests, and result in lower future emissions than would otherwise be the case. This pathway will bring credible and crucial climate mitigation benefits. Furthermore, we recognize the many other environmental and social benefits that will continue to flow from these forest ecosystems if they are effectively maintained.

WCS applauds the ART Board and TREES Secretariat for their efforts to continually improve the TREES standard. We support efforts by the global community, by forest countries and by Indigenous People and local communities to protect intact forests, including those in HFLD countries and jurisdictions, and we stand ready to collaborate with others who share this goal.