The 16th session of the UN Forum on Forests brought global focus to forests’ potential to address both the roots and impacts of current crises in the areas of health, economy and climate change. During the session the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) launched a new flagship publication, the Global Forest Goals Report for 2021, providing the first assessment of progress towards the six Global Forest Goals. 

Convening virtually from 26-29 April 2021, UNFF 16 served to review progress on the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2030, which includes the six Global Forest Goals and their 26 targets. Reviewing the Plan’s implementation, the 2021 Global Forest Goals Report finds that on the target of increasing the world’s total forest area by 3% by 2030, Asia, Europe, and Oceania are on track, while Africa and South America have been losing forest area. On reducing poverty for forest-dependent people, many actions are being taken but the effects need to be measured. The publication notes a similar finding on mobilizing more forest financing, with many initiatives underway, but challenges in assessing their impacts.

The US said the pandemic has shown the need for working with Indigenous Peoples to sustain and maintain forest ecosystems.

The Forum also included a panel on links between the global forests goals (GFGs) and the SDGs under review in 2021. Speakers highlighted that: the pandemic has underscored the need for systemic transformation of key economic systems, and political will exists to raise ambition and move the needle towards sustainability (FAO); there is a need for partnerships for payments for ecosystem services, forest carbon credits, and incentives for desertification-free supply chains (Mexico); and domestic efforts are underway to achieve the Global Forest Goals in conjunction with the SDGs and climate neutrality commitments (China).

Another session focused on the 21 forest-related global indicators for measuring the Global Forest Goals and their targets. FAO reported that countries need to test and finalize some of the indicators. IUFRO said the indicators’ success will require political support for monitoring, to ensure sufficient available data. She also mentioned the need to innovatively present data, depending on the needs of the target groups. Several countries supported the idea of capacity-building workshops on the indicators and on national reporting to the UNFF. 

A high-level roundtable convened to discuss major forest-related developments. ECOSOC President Munir Akram stressed that halting and reversing deforestation can reduce the spread of zoonotic diseases. UNGA President Volkan Bozkir said the current environmental and health crises are indicative of a problem with humans’ relationship with nature.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed called for more forest financing, and incorporating forest conservation and restoration in COVID-19 recovery. She that healthy forests and ecosystems are “ready-to-go solutions for green recovery at scale.” She reported that for every USD 1 spent on forests, almost USD 7 are generated in further economic benefits, and every job in forests generates an additional 1.5-2.5 jobs in the wider economy. 

Elizabeth Mrema, CBD Executive Secretary, said unsustainable use of forest products push humans further into contact with pathogens. Meanwhile, restoring priority lands could sequester almost half of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released since the industrial revolution.

France highlighted the Alliance for Preservation of Forests to tackle deforestation and encourage sustainable supply chains. Indonesia cited plans to rehabilitate 5,629 hectares of mangroves by 2024. Germany reported forest-related climate action, including encouraging deforestation-free supply chains – among other countries to highlight the importance of deforestation-free products. The US said the pandemic has shown the need for working with Indigenous Peoples to sustain and maintain forest ecosystems.

Several countries reported on recovery measures from the pandemic, including: Argentina’s promotion of sustainable value chains and investments in forest conservation; Kenya’s involvement of youth in tree planting and measures to support livelihoods of vulnerable groups; and Philippines’ shifting to bamboo as a priority commodity to enhance soil conservation.

According to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, the global community has been “left with no choice” but to focus on forests’ functions in carbon sequestration, biodiversity protection, and the conservation of soils and land. Many participants at UNFF16 noted that the economies of scale presented by investing in nature and ensuring healthy ecosystems can no longer be ignored. There is no longer a choice to be made between socio-economic benefits and healthy ecosystems.

Other observations from the ENB analysis of the meeting include:

  • Worldwide attention to nature-based solutions “continues to peak,” and many delegates underscored evidence that the pandemic is a direct consequence of our failure to care for the planet;
  • Participants said pooling efforts to achieve the UN Strategic Plan for Forests is a win-win for all sectors, while achieving the SDGs;
  • The Global Forest Goals Report 2021 clearly shows that even though progress has been achieved in increasing forest cover through afforestation and restoration, the worsening state of our natural environment is threatening these and other gains; and 
  • The Forum emphasized the need to upgrade forest-based climate actions in the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement.

Through a silence procedure, UNFF 16 adopted the Programme of Work for 2022-2024, which provides a roadmap for the Forum’s work over the next three years. It also agreed on the date, venue and provisional agenda for UNFF 17. [Earth Negotiations Bulletin meeting coverage] [DESA press release on Global Forest Goals Report 2021] [Publication: Global Forest Goals Report 2021] [UN meeting summary, 26 April] [UN meeting summary, 27 April] [UN meeting summary, 28 April] [UN meeting summary, 29 April]