Unless consumers are willing to shift to more sustainable food sources, the target of ending deforestation by 2030 may not be met.
That is the view of one of Ireland’s foremost environmental science experts in reaction to the global pledge by world leaders to end the practice by 2030.
The announcement was made as one of the earliest agreements by more than 100 world leaders, including Taoiseach Micheál Martin, to not only end but also to reverse the highly damaging process.
Even Brazil has signed up, despite its right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro rubbishing the climate crisis in the past, and ploughing ahead with deforestation in the Amazon, to the horror of environmentalists.
Mr Bolsonaro has notably softened his tone in recent months, and, surprisingly, signed up to the deforestation pledge at the United Nations climate change summit in Glasgow.
However, the newest pledge has been met with sceptical eyes, as a similar public pronouncement was made in 2014 in New York, only for deforestation to increase.
Dr Eoin Lettice, a plant scientist at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Environmental Research Institute at University College Cork (UCC), was hopeful the newest pledge would be acted upon.
It is good news that so many countries have signed up to the agreement, he said.
“Not only is this positive news for efforts to keep the 1.5C target alive, if successful, it will help to protect biodiversity and preserve plant species which could form the basis of useful crops and medicines in the future,” Dr Lettice said.
He added it was also “very welcome” the countries have agreed to fully respect the role of indigenous people in protecting forests.
A report published last year by a group of international scientists, including Dr Lettice at UCC, noted that two in five plant species are at risk of extinction.
“Many of these are found in forested areas which are threatened. Although these plants have their own intrinsic value, they are also the 'toolbox' from which we may source potential solutions to global problems like climate change, pandemics and food security,” he told the.
“For example, the 'State of the World's Plants' report found that there are 7,039 edible plant species which could potentially contribute to improving food security. However, at the moment just 15 plants make up about 90% of humanity's food energy intake.”
Dr Lettice said there were challenges ahead, however.
“As demand for these products rise, so does the demand for more agriculture land to produce them on. Unless consumers are willing to shift to more sustainable food sources, the target of ending deforestation by 2030 may not be met,” he said.
Dr Lettice is part of the UCC delegation that will attend Cop26 in Glasgow over the full two weeks, as the only Irish university with observer status.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin told thethat forestation must be a major component of the Climate Action Plan, which is unveiled on Thursday.
“We have to look at the existing afforestation schemes, can we incentivise more farmers back into it, because they have lost a bit of faith in the system.
“There has been a lot of serial objection to afforestation in the last number of years which has sapped the energy and enthusiasm for it.
“We have to be more broad-based, more native species grown, but to create an income incentive for farmers and others to grow more trees in Ireland,” he said.