23 January 2020
SDG Implementation Will Affect Forests and People
Photo Credit: Casey Horner on Unsplash
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This book discusses the conditions that influence how the SDGs are implemented and prioritized, and provides a systematic, multidisciplinary global assessment of interlinkages among the SDGs and their targets, increasing understanding of potential synergies and unavoidable trade-offs between goals from the point of view of forests and people.

It is crucially important that the potential trade-offs implicit in the SDGs with respect to forests and other land uses are recognized, understood and made transparent to societies, and that the forest–people interconnectedness is fully accounted for in societal and policy decisions.

Forests cover about one-third of the world’s land area and provide ecosystem services that are crucial to human well-being and for reaching the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda. For example, forests are critical for climate change mitigation and for sustaining global biodiversity; they provide timber and non-timber forest products as well as pollination services that are critical for sustaining agricultural production. Forests can be directly or indirectly linked to each of the SDGs and the future of the world’s forests is critical for sustainable development at all scales, from global to local.

Little attention, however, has yet focused on how efforts towards achieving the SDGs will impact forests and forest-related livelihoods, and how these impacts may, in turn, enhance or undermine the contributions of forests to climate and development. Understanding the potential impacts of SDGs on forests and forest-related livelihoods and development as well as the related trade-offs and synergies is crucial for the efforts undertaken to reach these goals. It is especially important for reducing potential negative impacts and to leverage opportunities to create synergies that will ultimately determine whether comprehensive progress towards the SDGs will be made.

The book Sustainable Development Goals: Their Impacts on Forests and People by IUFRO WFSE (International Union of Forest Research Organizations’ special project World Forest, Society and Environment) provides a comprehensive assessment of potential and anticipated impacts of efforts towards attaining the different SDGs on forests and forest-related livelihoods and development. The development of this book involved 120 scientists and experts from 60 different universities and research and development organizations as well as 38 scientists who acted as peer reviewers of the 17 SDG chapters.

This book discusses the conditions that influence how SDGs are implemented and prioritized, and provides a systematic, multidisciplinary global assessment of interlinkages among the SDGs and their targets, increasing understanding of potential synergies and unavoidable trade-offs between goals from the point of view of forests and people.

The SDGs include partially conflicting visions for forests and people, making it necessary to consider trade-offs and to set priorities. National circumstances and development priorities influence how the SDGs are prioritized and how they are included in national strategies and policies. Measures taken to implement the SDGs vary according to economic prosperity, political stability, social cohesion, level of technological development and policy, institutional and social frameworks as well as geographic features and the natural resource base. The extent and condition of forest resources and the role of forests in industrial development and for livelihoods largely determine the relative importance given to forests in relation to other land uses. Social and cultural perspectives also play a key role, as do the values and interests of different actors in society, and their representation and voice pertaining to forest related decision making. These conditions greatly influence how synergies can be leveraged and unavoidable trade-offs mitigated.

There is large potential for synergies among the SDGs and their targets and the implementation of several SDGs can be beneficial for both forests and people. For example, SDG 13 (Climate action) should lead to more sustainable forest management and conservation as well as forest restoration. Improved resource efficiency, sustainable production and new technologies under SDG 12 (Sustainable production and consumption) and increased agricultural productivity for reaching food security (SDG 2) can also reduce pressures on forests. The interlinkage between SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation) and forests relates to water availability and water quality. Generally forests have a positive impact on water quality. This favors maintaining forest cover and increasing cover in protected or degraded catchments. A focus on water efficiency, however, may restrict the establishment of new forest plantations in semi-arid areas.

For sustaining and enhancing forests’ contributions to achieving SDGs, it is also important to focus attention on participatory governance, the regulatory framework, the accountability and transparency of institutions, access to markets and finances, education and enhancing social capital. These issues have been found to contribute to an enabling environment for inclusive forest management and conservation with associated livelihood benefits. All these issues are also included in the SDGs and advancing towards them will support sustainable forest-related development and livelihoods.

On the other hand, efforts to advance towards some SDGs can affect land use directly and are thus expected to directly impact forests and pose serious threats to forests and the people living in or near them. For example, SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth) and SDG 9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure) may encourage infrastructure development and other activities which lead to forest loss. The expansion of agricultural crops for food or energy (SDG 2 Food security and SDG 7 Affordable and clean energy) is also likely to compete with forests in many locations.

It is crucially important that the potential trade-offs implicit in the SDGs with respect to forests and other land uses are recognized, understood and made transparent to societies, and that the forest–people interconnectedness is fully accounted for in societal and policy decisions. This must include thinking across different scales and generations. When the implementation of SDGs and targets may have negative outcomes on forests and people alternative options that contribute to social development and forest conservation should be developed, or measures should be taken to reduce negative outcomes, for example by limiting infrastructure development to protect valuable biodiversity, other environmental values and indigenous people’s way of life.

In view of the diversity of forest-related societal needs, viewpoints, cultural values and interests different groups should have access to the SDG-related decision-making and implementation processes at all levels and these processes should be perceived by everyone as transparent, fair and effective. It is vitally important that all the relevant stakeholders, especially women, indigenous peoples and marginalized groups, are involved in the design and implementation of the SDGs.

Capturing the potential of forests and trees for sustainable development requires that they are integrated in efforts and measures undertaken to reach the SDGs and specific targets. In this process harnessing opportunities for beneficial synergies and mitigating trade-offs among the SDGs and their targets is of utmost importance. The implementation of the SDGs and associated goals and targets will also require continuous learning and adaptation of implementation strategies and approaches, but possibly also targets, taking into consideration observed outcomes.

Dr. Pia Katila is a senior scientist at Natural Resources Institute Finland and the coordinator of IUFRO WFSE (IUFRO special project World Forests, Society and Environment, https://www.iufro.org/science/special/wfse/)

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