Celebrating its 50th anniversary and convening in person for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Committee on Forestry (COFO) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) discussed how FAO should proceed with work on linkages between agriculture, forestry, and climate change, and examined preparations for the 2025 edition of the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA).

The Committee also discussed the implications and follow-up of the findings of FAO’s flagship report titled, ‘The State of the World’s Forests 2022’ (SOFO 2022), and the XV World Forestry Congress, held in May 2022 in Seoul, Republic of Korea.

Other issues addressed during the meeting include sustainable production of wood and non-wood forest products and their value chains, and the role of such products in combating climate change, including the draft action plan for implementing FAO’s newest Strategy on Climate Change. Delegates also heard updates on the implementation of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 and the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2030, as well as other efforts to support forest governance and sustainable forest management (SFM) and conservation.

According to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) analysis of the meeting, the war in Ukraine “dominated discussions on several agenda items,” due to its effects on land, agriculture, and global food and energy security, and because of the “differing positions between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, which is itself home to one-fifth of the world’s forests.”

Countries’ differing national interests were prominent in the debate over how the meeting report should reflect the way the war was addressed, as well as some of the issues that more directly affect forests. For example, the ENB writes, some of the world’s biggest exporters of agricultural products objected to the report of the meeting including the SOFO 2022 finding that “agricultural conversion is responsible for 90% of all deforestation.” Others objected to calling for “halting deforestation” – the exact wording of one of the targets under SDG 15 (life on land).

At the same time, numerous countries reported increases in tree cover or initiatives being undertaken for this purpose, including Saudi Arabia’s programme to plant one billion trees across the country and the ongoing multi-country Great Green Wall initiative in Africa.

COFO is the highest of the FAO Forestry Statutory Bodies. Its biennial sessions bring together heads of forest services and other senior government officials to identify emerging policy and technical issues, seek solutions, and advise FAO and others on appropriate action.

The 26th session of COFO convened in hybrid format in Rome, Italy, from 3-7 October 2022. The 8th World Forest Week convened in parallel, where a series of special events were held under the overarching theme, ‘Growing a Better Planet.’ [ENB Coverage of COFO 26]