The State of World Forests 2018

The State of World Forests 2018

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Achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is a commitment made by countries to tackle the complex challenges we face, from ending poverty and hunger and responding to climate change to building resilient communities, achieving inclusive growth and sustainably managing the Earth’s natural resources.

“We have greater evidence on how forests are critical to livelihoods of the world’s poorest, with a better understanding of the trade-offs and more exact confirmation that healthy and productive forests are essential to sustainable agriculture.”
José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General

As governments determine how best to commit national efforts to achieve transformational change, The State of the World’s Forests 2018 (SOFO 2018) analyses the role that forests and trees – and the people who use and manage them – can play in helping countries achieve their objectives and bring about a brighter future. SOFO 2018 shines a light on the profound interlinkages that exist between forests and many other goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda, enabling policymakers to strike the right balance in actions, investments and partnerships directed towards food security, poverty alleviation, ecological conservation and, ultimately, to find pathways to sustainable development.

Forests and trees make vital contributions to both people and the planet, bolstering livelihoods, providing clean air and water, conserving biodiversity and responding to climate change.

Forests act as a source of food, medicine and fuel for more than a billion people. In addition to helping to respond to climate change and protect soils and water, forests hold more than three-quarters of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, provide many products and services that contribute to socio-economic development and are particularly important for hundreds of millions of people in rural areas, including many of the world’s poorest.

The world’s population is projected to increase from around 7.6 billion today to close to 10 billion people by 2050. The corresponding global demand for food – estimated to grow by 50 percent during this period – is placing enormous pressure on the way we use productive land, particularly in developing countries where the overwhelming majority of the world’s 800 million poor and hungry people are concentrated. Deforestation, chiefly caused by the conversion of forest land to agriculture and livestock areas, threatens not only the livelihoods of foresters, forest communities and indigenous peoples, but also the variety of life on our planet. Land-use changes result in a loss of valuable habitats, land degradation, soil erosion, a decrease in clean water and the release of carbon into the atmosphere. How to increase agricultural production and improve food security without reducing forest area is one of the great challenges of our times.

Evidence is key to opening the forest pathways to sustainable development.

While the importance of forests and trees to a healthy, prosperous planet is universally recognized, the depth of those roots may be greater than imagined. Several indicators under SDG15 focus on forests, specifically monitoring forest land and the share of forests under sustainable management. The Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA), coordinated by FAO, found that the world’s forest area decreased from 31.6 percent of the global land area to 30.6 percent between 1990 and 2015, but that the pace of loss has slowed in recent years.

There is quantitative evidence to show that forests are being managed more sustainably and that forests and trees contribute to achieving SDGs related to the livelihoods and food security of many rural poor, access to affordable energy, sustainable economic growth and employment (in the formal sector), sustainable consumption and production, and climate change mitigation, as well as sustainable forest management.

The people left furthest behind are often located in areas in and around forests.

The livelihoods and food security of many of the world’s rural poor depend on vibrant forests and trees. Evidence shows that around 40 percent of the extreme rural poor – around 250 million people – live in forest and savannah areas. Access to forest products, goods and services are vital for the livelihoods and resilience of the poorest households, acting as safety nets in difficult times. Some studies suggest that forests and trees may provide around 20 percent of income for rural households in developing countries, both through cash income and by meeting subsistence needs. Non-wood forest products (NWFPs) provide food, income, and nutritional diversity for an estimated one in five people around the world, notably women, children, landless farmers and others in vulnerable situations.

Water quality, essential to the health and life of both rural and urban populations, is directly related to forest management.

Changes in land cover, use and management have grave implications on a nation’s water supply. While three-quarters of the globe’s accessible freshwater comes from forested watersheds, research shows that 40 percent of the world’s 230 major watersheds have lost more than half of their original tree cover. Despite this, the area of forests managed for soil and water conservation has increased globally over the past 25 years, and in 2015 a quarter of forests were managed with soil and/or water conservation as an objective.

Modernizing the traditional wood energy sector has the power to improve livelihoods, create sustainable value chains and unlock resources for investments in sustainable forest management.

The potential of forests is perhaps no better illustrated than in the fact that wood grows back. Around one-third of the world’s population, or about 2.4 billion people, make use of wood to provide basic energy services such as cooking, boiling water and heating. Overall, forests supply about 40 percent of global renewable energy in the form of woodfuel – as much as solar, hydroelectric and wind power combined. Emphasis must now be on producing woodfuel more sustainably to reduce forest degradation, as well as more cleanly and efficiently to improve the health of millions of people, particularly women and children.

The world’s response to climate change – in terms of adaptation, mitigation and resilience – must focus more on forests.

As underscored at the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, forests and trees play a crucial role in determining the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Acting as carbon sinks, they absorb the equivalent of roughly 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. However, deforestation is the second-leading cause of climate change after burning fossil fuels and accounts for nearly 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions — more than the world’s entire transport sector. Effective forest management can strengthen resilience and adaptive capacities to climate-related natural disasters, underscoring the importance of integrating forest-based measures into national disaster risk reduction (DRR) strategies. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the roles of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks (known as REDD+) will be vital for global efforts to combat climate change. The 25 countries with the highest forest cover have all included forest-related mitigation measures (reduced deforestation and forest degradation, afforestation, enhancement of forest carbon stocks, forest conservation and agroforestry) in their Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), instruments for meeting the SDGs.

Qualitative evidence suggests that forests and trees also make significant contributions to SDGs through the informal sector, agroforestry, opportunities to empower women, sustainable water management, tourism, sustainable cities, climate change adaptation and tackling land degradation and biodiversity loss.

Nature-based tourism, for example, is growing three times faster than the tourism industry as a whole, and now accounts for approximately 20 percent of the global market. The integration of green space and tree cover in urban planning is also on the rise, with studies showing links to a reduction in levels of both obesity and crime, though measuring and evaluating such benefits remains challenging. In view of growing urbanization and climate change, the design, planning and management of urban green spaces, including forests and trees, should be integrated into urban planning at an early stage. The role of forests and trees should be reflected in climate mitigation and adaptation policies.

Addressing agriculture and forests together in developing national development policies is critical to achieving the SDGs.

Sustainable agriculture needs healthy and productive forests. Forests and trees support sustainable agriculture by, for example, stabilizing soils and climate, regulating water flows, providing shade, shelter and a habitat for pollinators and the natural predators of agricultural pests. When integrated into agricultural landscapes, forests and trees can increase agricultural productivity. They also help provide food security for hundreds of millions of people, for whom they are important sources of food, energy and income during hard times.

The world’s primary objectives of ending poverty and achieving sustainability will be greatly enhanced by strengthening legal frameworks that recognize and secure the rights of local communities and smallholders to access forests and trees.

Globally, 1.5 billion local and indigenous people have secured rights over forest resources through community-based tenure. There are significant benefits in giving local people with traditional knowledge the ability to influence decision-making in ways that contribute to SDG targets. With clear and secure rights, people are more likely to take a longer-term approach to forest management, as they know that they or their successors will benefit from this. Where insecure tenure is a critical problem, frameworks such as the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests can help to provide certainty. Looking ahead, there is a need to learn from successful experiences in community forest management, recognizing the importance of scientific and technical support, training, capacity-building and access to markets, market information and adequate financial resources, as well as the need for clarity in setting out the rights and responsibilities of different parties. All these measures will need to be in place if forest pathways to sustainable development are to be strengthened.

Access to land, resources and investments in and around forests can propel women, youth and other rural entrepreneurs to be agents of change in the transformation to a sustainable world.

Strengthening tenure rights presents an opportunity to enhance gender equitable access to forests and trees, as well as encouraging a long-term, sustainable approach to forest management. Studies highlight the entrepreneurial role that women play, especially in the informal sector, and their leadership role in community and participatory forest management. The enterprise and energy of youth is just as vital for the future of the sector. Investment in training, capacity-building and the development of producer organizations can help persuade young people to see the value of making a living by the forest and resist uncertain migration. Investing in the informal sector by increasing economic activity, improving employment conditions and fostering a more sustainable approach to forest management can have a positive impact that stretches from forest to farm to town to city. Providing economic incentives to smallholders and communities to manage trees on forest lands is likely to prove rewarding.

A positive enabling environment is fundamental for attracting the private sector to pro-sustainability activities.

Both the formal and informal forest sectors include large numbers of small or micro businesses, while at the other end of the scale there are some very large companies. On a small scale, priorities often include training to improve land management practices, the promotion of agroforestry, the development of producer organizations, better access to markets and the availability of suitable financing arrangements. On a larger scale, there may be a need to address potential barriers to investment, often financial or infrastructure-related. Policy interventions are likely to include a mix of regulatory approaches and incentives to engage in activities that are not necessarily covered by the market, such as ecosystem services and sustainable forest management. At the same time, it will be important to address potential barriers to investment and remove incentives to clear forests. Partnerships with the private sector will be crucial in developing private governance initiatives, such as voluntary certification schemes and commitments to ‘zero-deforestation’ supply chains.

Acting with forests in mind to achieve the SDGs

To accomplish the historic ambition of ending hunger and poverty and transforming to a sustainable world, the 2030 Agenda expects sectoral ministries to change the way they work and to coordinate policies across government.

Actions on forests, agriculture, food, land use, rural and national development must synchronize in the future if sustainable development is to be realized. Although drivers vary significantly between countries and regions, policymakers must recognize the need to manage trade-offs and set out concrete measures for better aligning multiple objectives and incentive structures. This integrated approach is critical for progressing towards the SDG targets. Establishing SDG implementation platforms composed of key sectors in natural-resource use and management is one way of managing cross-sectoral coordination and overcoming difficulties in governments that have sector-based ministries and agencies, with their own resource allocations and accountability arrangements. SDG implementation platforms would bring together different ministries and government agencies with other key stakeholders working in dialogue and coordinated action, with a focus on achieving the SDGs and benefitting from interlinkages, identifying and addressing barriers to change and monitoring progress.