The three pathways involving forests and trees that can support economic and environmental recovery are: halting deforestation and maintaining forests; restoring degraded lands and expanding agroforestry; and sustainably using forests and building green value chains.
The report stresses that maximizing synergies among these three “mutually reinforcing” pathways could generate “some of the highest returns” in terms of climate and environmental benefits.
However, in the absence of supportive policies and institutions, there is a risk that smallholders’ investments in the forest pathways could fail.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) has launched its biennial flagship report on the state of the world’s forests (SOFO), which explores three intertwined forest pathways to achieve green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic while tackling climate change and biodiversity loss, among other “multidimensional planetary crises.”
The report’s 2020 edition examined the contributions of forests, and of the people who use and manage them, to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Recognizing the forests’ critical role in achieving multiple SDGs, more than 140 countries signed the 2021 Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, committing to eliminate forest loss by 2030 and to support forest restoration and sustainable forestry. It is against this background that this year’s report titled, ‘The State of the World’s Forests: Forest Pathways for Green Recovery and Building Inclusive, Resilient and Sustainable Economies,’ emphasizes forests and trees’ crucial role in addressing climate change, biodiversity loss, and the emergence of new diseases.
The three pathways outlined in the report are:
- Halting deforestation and maintaining forests, which could help avoid emitting up to 5.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) per year between 2020 and 2050, including about 14% “of what is needed up to 2030” to keep global warming below 1.5°C, and safeguard more than half of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity;
- Restoring degraded lands and expanding agroforestry, which could boost agricultural productivity and cost-effectively remove from the atmosphere 0.9-1.5 GtCO2e per year between 2020 and 2050; and
- Sustainably using forests and building green value chains, which would help meet the growing demand for materials and support sustainable economies.
The authors stress that maximizing synergies among these three “mutually reinforcing” pathways could generate “some of the highest returns” in terms of climate and environmental benefits while at the same time increasing local sustainable development potential, resilience, and adaptive capacity.
SOFO 2022 calls for policy shifts that would “divert financial flows away from actions that harm forests and … incentivize investment in conservation, restoration and sustainable use.” The report warns that finance for the three forest pathways would need to “at least triple” by 2030 if global climate, biodiversity, and land degradation neutrality (LDN) targets are to be met.
The report also highlights the critical role stakeholders could play in supporting the pathways’ realization. It notes that smallholders and Indigenous Peoples and local communities, for example, will be crucial for scaling up implementation of the pathways as they own or manage 4.35 billion hectares – nearly half – of the world’s forest and farm landscapes. Companies in forest-based value chains could also become essential partners in the development of circular economies.
However, the authors warn that in the absence of supportive policies and institutions, there is a risk that smallholders’ investments in the forest pathways could fail. Additionally, they point to the need to manage parallel risks associated with climate change, such as increased vulnerability to fire, pests, and drought.
To move swiftly along the three pathways, SOFO 2022 identifies starting points, which may include:
- Channeling funding for recovery towards long-term policies directed at creating sustainable, green jobs and further mobilizing private investment;
- Empowering and incentivizing local actors, including women, youth, and Indigenous Peoples, to take a leading role in the forest pathways;
- Engaging in awareness raising and policy dialogue on sustainable forests towards simultaneous achievement of economic and environmental goals; and
- Maximizing synergies and minimizing trade-offs between the three forest pathways and between agricultural, forestry, environmental, and other policies.
The report was released on the opening day of the XV World Forestry Congress in Seoul, Republic of Korea, which took place from 2-6 May 2022. It comes ahead the 17th session of the UN Forum on Forests, convening from 9-13 May at UN Headquarters in New York, US, which will discuss the implementation of the UN strategic plan for forests 2017-2030 (UNSPF) and consider forest-related multilateral developments. [Publication: State of the World’s Forests 2022] [State of the World’s Forests 2022: In Brief] [Digital Report] [Publication Landing Page] [FAO SOFO Webpage] [SDG Knowledge Hub Article on SOFO 2018]