Forests for the Sustainable Development Goals – a Solution to Climate Change?

Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR - Photo: Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR
Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR

Increased action against climate change and deforestation is urgent. On 1 November 2017 Norway gathered experts to discuss solutions to climate issues and look more closely at what role forests might play.

Protection of tropical forests is high on Norway’s international agenda. It is estimated that about 1/3 of the climate solution lies in increasing and protecting the world’s forest cover. Forests will certainly play an integral part in meeting the commitments from the Paris Climate Agreement and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At the World Economic Forum in Geneva, several engaged climate activists and practitioners came together at a side-event to the Tropical Forest Alliance Steering Committee meeting to discuss forests, food, and the SDGs.

The panel consisted of Mr. Craig Hanson from the World Resources Institute, Mr. Ivan Valencia from the Colombian Ministry of Environment, Ms. Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim from the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad, Mr. Jeff Seabright from Unilever, Mr. Marco Albani from the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, Mr. Per Ilsaas Pharo from the Government of Norway, and Mr. Mario Boccucci from the UN-REDD. Mr Hans Brattskar, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Norway to the UN in Geneva, chaired the discussion with the seven expert panelists who spoke convincingly about the various implications of deforestation and its effects on the climate.

 “Everyone depends on forests,” said Mr. Hanson, “because forests provide a range of goods and services”. Forests are a gold mine of natural resources. Forests provide income from timber and tourism, food from its rainfall patterns, erosion control, irrigation systems, pollination, freshwater and coastal fish, health from its provision of clean drinking water, clean air, recreation and medicine, energy, safety, and the list goes on. If deforestation continues, however, such goods and services will no longer be available, and the positive impacts quickly turn into adverse ones.

Photo: UD/Permanent Mission of Norway

“Deforestation exacerbates poverty”, said Hanson. The global forest cover is increasingly threatened by agriculture, particularly soy, paper, cattle and palm oil, coupled with a growing world population that leads to an increased demand for these products. This has caused an increased need for the ecosystem services and photosynthesis of the forests. If current trends continue, the world would require 50 percent more land for food production, much at the expense of forests. Decline in human health, spread of diseases, economic losses, upsurge in local conflicts, poverty, natural disasters and severe climate changes are just some of the likely consequences.

“Speaking about forests is speaking about lives”, said Ms. Ibrahim, emphasizing the significant human costs. Poverty for the indigenous women and peoples of Chad is not necessarily a lack of money and material wealth, she said. The poverty threatening them rather derives from a lack of land and declining natural resources.

Photo: UD/Permanent Mission of Norway

“We cannot conceive a future in which there is no forests, and need to move from ambitions to actions. From commitment to change!” urged Boccucci. Yet, he believes we now for the first time have a conducive environment to save forests, with a proper multilateral framework in place. The time is ripe for change.

 “We do not have a lot of time to address these challenges, to be honest,” said Mr. Seabright, with a strong sense of urgency.

But what exactly can be done?

Reduce food loss and waste, shifting to healthier diets and boosting crops and livestock yields can go a long way. In order to succeed, however, one must also both produce, protect and ensure that people still prosper, as many of the panelists at the event highlighted. We need to ensure forest conservation, protection and the securing of land rights for indigenous people. We must increase transparency, foster partnership, and mobilize grassroots and civil society. We must make greater use of private sector willingness and cooperation. And we need to find innovative solutions and make actions against climate change the new normal.

“We can’t only raise the ceiling, but we have to raise the floor too,” underlined Mr. Albani, inspiring us to reimagine what is possible. The commitment and willingness is there. It now depends on taking the leap to follow up on those commitments. Only then can we hope to finally meet our goals from the Paris Agreement and reach the Sustainable Development Goals, and aspire for a brighter future for people, farmers and forests alike.

Read more about the activities of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, the Sustainable Development Goals and the status of the Paris Agreement.