Deforestation ‘Seriously Hampering Achievement of Forest Goals, Paris Agreement’, Speaker Says, as United Nations Forum Continues Its Session
Discussion in the Forum on Forests today was dominated by proposals to support the functioning of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests — a voluntary arrangement among 14 international organizations dedicated to improving the sustainable management, conservation and trade of forest-based products around the world.
Updating on the Partnership’s workplan, a speaker from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stressed that “deforestation is seriously hampering the achievement of the global forest goals 2030 and Paris Agreement on climate change.” Showcasing activities to accelerate implementation of forest-related commitments, she said the Partnership issued a set of common messages to be used across the United Nations system on the importance of reaching the global forest goals laid out in the United Nations strategic plan for forests 2017-2030.
Noting that the United Nations REDD programme – a partnership led by FAO, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) — is now helping 60 countries fight deforestation, she said the Partnership also recently awarded its Wangari Maathai Award to a champion of forests, while its Global Forest Expert Panels Programme will issue a scientific assessment on optimizing the trade-offs between health and the conservation and sustainable management of forests and trees.
In the ensuing discussion, the speaker from the International Union of Forest Research Organizations highlighted the importance of sound scientific knowledge in making evidence-based decisions. The assessment on forests and human health, to be finalized in March 2023, will provide an invaluable input to the Forum’s next session and the Economic and Social Council high-level political forum on sustainable development. Noting that the International Union of Forest Research Organizations recently published a study on 10 years of REDD+ implementation, he said that, as member of the Partnership, the group will continue to play an active role in the implementation of the Partnership’s workplan.
The representative of the European Union, speaking in its capacity as observer, welcomed the Partnership’s 2021-2024 workplan, encouraging it to finalize its global forest‑related indicators and present a progress report. Its initiatives also should better highlight the contributions of forests to tackling global challenges. He encouraged it to bolster cooperation and interaction among its members, notably when submitting inputs to other forums, and to enhance its efforts to raise awareness of the strategic plan for forests within other processes.
During the wide-ranging discussion, several delegates described national efforts to address climate change, with Kenya’s delegate highlighting actions to abate greenhouse‑gas emissions by 2 per cent by 2030, a goal set out in its updated nationally determined contributions targets. In 2018, the President outlined a “10 per cent tree‑cover strategy” to be carried out under the principle of leaving no one behind and by taking a “public-private-people-partnerships” approach to establishing a tree growing culture across the country. The tree cover assessment — the first of its kind in Kenya — stands at 12.13 per cent, he added.
Burundi’s representative pointed to the “Green and Tree-Covered Burundi” programme as an example of how countries can meet the global forest goals, while Gabon’s delegate cited efforts to bolster capacity-building, build climate finance institutions and quantify carbon. Saudi Arabia’s delegate meanwhile pointed to the national reforestation strategy and a green initiative for the Mediterranean region among efforts to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide. Saudi Arabia also planted 10 million trees between 2020 and 2021 and increased the number of forest observation centres.
Several delegates raised questions over the trade-related aspects of forest products. Offering a comprehensive view on the topic, Brazil’s representative expressed concern over the concept of “deforestation free”, which has yet to be discussed in multilateral forums. He described Brazil’s forest code, which provides a strict framework for regulating land use change, whereby landowners are required to allocate from 20 to 80 per cent of working landscapes to natural vegetation, and to protect areas vital for biodiversity. Over 15 per cent of croplands are comprised of integrated agricultural forestry and livestock arrangements. Therefore, Brazil’s efforts to foster sustainable consumption and production must build on national legislation to resonate with local communities and landowners.
Against that backdrop, he said international proposals to foster sustainable value chains must be addressed at the World Trade Organization (WTO). There is no one-size-fits-all approach to stimulate sustainable forest management. Proposals for “deforestation‑free” supply chains may place undue burden on small or medium‑sized landowners unable to meet certification schemes and who may resort to unsustainable methods. The best way to protect forests relies on enhancing capacity-building and technology transfer, he said, and on increasing market access to forest-based products. He urged the Partnership therefore to abide by previously agreed language under WTO.
Broadly agreeing, Argentina’s representative said references to supply chains are still being developed and require further study. He called for a “flexible attitude”, as the discussion goes beyond the Forum’s purview and requires grounding in WTO rules.
Several delegates made recommendations for the Partnership. In that spirit, the representative of the United States requested updates on its “Green Finance for Sustainable Landscapes” initiative and on outcomes by institutions working on target‑setting. She encouraged flexible approaches to reaching forest goals and exploring how the Forum can better inform the Partnership’s joint initiatives, including by providing inputs to the Partnership’s next workplan. She described the Partnership as crucial to the work of the Forum on Forests and commended it for organizing a fully virtual Global Landscapes Forum, among other activities.
Switzerland’s delegate agreed, suggesting that the Forum offer “Partnership news flashes” across its website. “More active information could be very interesting for us to follow”, she said. Japan’s delegate meanwhile expressed support for the Partnership’s “Sustainable Wood for a Sustainable World” joint initiative with the International Tropical Timber Organization and FAO.
Throughout the morning, delegates also offered views on the activities of major groups, the private sector and philanthropic communities, with some calling for more direct participation in forest discussions. On that point, the speaker from the non-governmental organizations major group described myriad activities carried out, including an April 2021 event titled “People’s Voices from the Forest: Reflection on public measures mitigating negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the forest sector” in which women, labour and indigenous peoples’ groups participated.
The speaker from the children and youth major group similarly called for the full engagement of young people in forest-related decisions, pointing out that many forest education programmes are outdated. Financial support for forest training is also needed, as it is becoming increasingly expensive. She called for concerted efforts by the public and private sectors, academia and international organizations — within and beyond the forest sector — to work with young people to ensure access to high-quality forest education.
The speaker from the women’s major group meanwhile highlighted the commitment of African Women’s Network to plant 20 million trees. “Nobody believed we could sustain the effort for such a long time,” she exclaimed, also thanking the Collaborative Partnership on Forests for selecting her as the 2022 Wangari Mathai Forest Champion.
The Minister for State of Uganda underscored the need for alternative livelihoods. “We need to introduce and encourage our people to grow selected species of trees and answer the current pressure on land,” she said, stressing that, if countries do not promote potential cash crops, “this pressure will not go away”. With that in mind, Uganda now promotes bamboo and macadamia to ensure food security, environmental conservation and income‑generation. Also, as most forest land is used by the private sector, public-private collaboration is especially important, she said, pointing out that, if women cannot own land, they will not be included.
Among the other topics tackled were the links between the global forest goals and the Sustainable Development Goals under review by the Council’s high‑level political forum on sustainable development in 2022.
In that context, the speaker from FAO drew attention to the World Forestry Congress, held from 2 to 6 May in Seoul, where 15,000 participants from 164 countries endorsed a declaration emphasizing the solutions offered by forests to tackle climate change, hunger and poverty. It also emphasized that responsibility for forests should be shared and integrated across sectors and stakeholders, that consumption and production patterns should be sustainable and that green financing mechanisms must be established.
China’s representative expressed hope that the Secretariat and Member States will work together “from various angles” to urge the high-level political forum to adopt views from multiple perspectives and draw attention to the strategic plan for forests.
Communication and outreach activities under the strategic plan for forests were also discussed, with several speakers recommending an update to the Forum’s website. Switzerland’s delegate added that a publication showing how forests meet the three dimensions of sustainable development could be useful. “There were things that were absolutely amazing that we discovered,” she said. “We want to get to people on the street to make them aware that forests are not only related to climate change. They are much more than that.”
To raise awareness, the representative of the Philippines cited his country’s celebration of the International Day of Forests and activities under the “Forest Start-Up 101” initiative. Ghana’s delegate likewise described an “aggressive” programme featuring “Green Ghana Day” among the activities to celebrate the International Day. In 2011, Ghana aimed to plant 5 million seedlings. “We wound up planting 7 million because of the enthusiasm,” he said, noting that, on 10 June, Ghana will plant 20 million seedlings. He also pointed to the “One Student, One Tree” initiative encouraging every student to plant a tree on Green Ghana Day as critical to its success. He recommended that the Forum feature this information on its website for countries to learn from Ghana and vice versa.
Also speaking today were representatives and senior officials of Nigeria, Congo, Mexico, Germany, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Australia, Malaysia and India.
The Forum on Forests will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 13 May, to take action on its draft omnibus resolution and close its seventeenth session.