This SDG Knowledge Weekly centers on the knowledge products that fed into and were released around the 14th Session of the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF), which took place from 6-10 May 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York, US.

Convened with a focus on policy dialogue, development and decision-making, the session was supported by three issue briefs and four background studies. Daily coverage of UNFF proceedings is available from IISD Reporting Services, and a summary of the session is available on the SDG Knowledge Hub.

Released in April 2019, a booklet of Global Forest Goals and Targets of the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2030 (UNSPF) describes the voluntary framework’s six goals and 26 targets, which were adopted in 2017 with target dates of 2030. Both the brochure and UNSPF itself map the goals and targets to those of the SDGs and Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and reference linkages to Paris Agreement on climate change. Relating to implementation of the UNSPF, countries have submitted Voluntary National Contributions (VNCs) that outline their efforts to operationalize the Framework’s goals and targets. At time of this brief’s publication, 12 VNCs were available online.

The three issues briefs analyze the contribution of forests to the achievement of the six SDGs under review at the July 2019 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF): SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), SDG 13 (climate action), SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) and SDG 17 (partnerships for the Goals) which is covered every year.

The first brief is titled, ‘Forests and climate change,’ and highlights the role that forests play in climate systems, including by “regulating atmospheric moisture and rainfall patterns and, consequently, local temperatures and fresh water flows.” It notes, however, that addressing climate change goes beyond reforestation efforts, emphasizing that poorly planned and planted forests will not have the desired benefits. The brief outlines policies and measures to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from forests, touching on both the requisite monitoring and accounting aspects as well as sustainable forest management on the ground. It further highlights the role that forests can play in reducing social vulnerability, describing the importance of ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) and adequate standards of governance. The brief references a lengthier study published in March 2019.

A separate report by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) titled, ‘Emerging Lessons for Mainstreaming Ecosystem-based Adaptation: Strategic Entry Points and Processes,’ highlights success factors and practical entry points for mainstreaming EbA into policies and planning. It is summarized on the SDG Knowledge Hub.

Given forests’ position at a nexus of several SDGs and development issues, policy coherence is needed, especially as demand for forest products grows.

The second brief titled, ‘Forests, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and employment,’ examines linkages with SDG 8. It articulates the economic opportunities afforded by forests, citing the statistic that forests contributed USD 600 billion to global gross domestic product (GDP) in 2011, and proportionally provided a significantly higher percentage of GDP in low-income countries (LICs). Given forests’ position at a nexus of several SDGs and development issues, the authors emphasize a need for policy coherence across agriculture, water, energy, tourism and health sectors. Such coherence, it notes, will only increase in importance as demand for forest products continues to grow. The second brief also references a lengthier study prepared in March 2019.

The third brief, on ‘Forests, peaceful and inclusive societies, reduced inequality, education, and inclusive institutions at all levels,’ connects with SDGs 4, 10 and 16. Articulating the effects of forest education in a range of areas—from scientific research to legal issues—the brief outlines areas where forest education can be enhanced, where small-scale and community forestry can foster more inclusive development, and how transparent forest governance structures can address challenges of inclusivity, legality, and access to public information. The brief references this study prepared in March 2019.

As further background information, the UNFF page also highlights background studies that examine the role forests play vis-à-vis SDGs reviewed at last year’s session of the HLPF:

Looking ahead to the 2019 HLPF, a communication issued by the UNFF Bureau further articulates the links between forests and the SDGs. It highlights the urgency of identifying progress, risks, gaps and areas requiring attention, pointing to the value created by ecosystem services. The communication describes experiences and lessons learned in empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality, noting that “forests provide an irreplaceable foundation for economic activities.” However, it cautions that poorly managed forests can also become a source for conflict. It calls for guidance from the HLPF on advancing implementation of the UNSPF and mainstreaming Global Forest Targets into countries’ national sustainable development plans, in addition to operational programs of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), an initiative combining efforts of 15 international organizations.

An IUCN publication also elaborates on linkages between forests and the SDGs, through the lens of restoration. The document describes forest landscape restoration (FLR) as going far beyond simply planting trees. Rather, it is “the process of regaining ecological functionality and enhancing human well-being across degraded and deforested areas large-scale areas comprising overlapping ecological, social and economic activities and values.” It cites FLR’s role in achieving development objectives and outcomes around the world, noting that FLR can also identify synergies and address trade-offs of SDG implementation, catalyze transformation of the forest and land use sector, and improve governance systems.

On terrestrial landscapes more broadly, the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) Kyoto 2019 was held on 13 May in Kyoto, Japan, and the 4th World Congress on Agroforestry is taking place from 20-25 May 2019 in Montpellier, France.

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