There is clear momentum internationally for the three pathways. For example, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021–2030) has increased the visibility of forest restoration, and initiatives such as the Bonn Challenge and the New York Declaration on Forests have set ambitious restoration targets. The UN Decade of Family Farming (2019–2028) has drawn attention to the crucial role of family farmers in ensuring food security, improving livelihoods, sustainably managing natural resources, protecting the environment and achieving sustainable development. Some countries have developed policies to encourage more circular economies. The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use has increased recognition of the role of forests in mitigating climate change. There are significant private sector commitments on deforestation-free supply chains. International public and private financial resources are increasingly available, and policy innovations such as tax-related incentives are being tested to assist countries to move further along the pathways. Recent new pledges in the context of climate change, including support for Indigenous Peoples, offer additional opportunities for financing pathways.
Given this momentum, now could be the moment for bold strategies aimed at scaling up the three pathways. As a starting point, the analysis in SOFO 2022 indicates the following four key actions for national and subnational jurisdictions and international financing and processes:
- Direct existing and new funding for recovery towards long-term policies aimed at creating sustainable economies, including green jobs. The forest pathways have considerable capacity to create green jobs and help develop sustainable economies. Funding decisions may depend on the cost-effectiveness of the pathways compared with other options, which, in turn, may hinge largely on ensuring an adequate policy environment and the strengthening of capacity at the local level.
- Empower and incentivize local actors to take a leading role in the forest pathways – little will change without the involvement of smallholders, local communities and Indigenous Peoples, but much can change with them. Among other things, this action requires removing policy and bureaucratic hurdles, providing tenure security, supporting the development of local producer groups, and following through on key action 1.
- Engage in awareness raising and policy dialogue on sustainable forest use as a means for simultaneously achieving economic and environmental goals, including biodiversity conservation and climate-change mitigation. In many countries, there is considerable negative sentiment towards the harvesting of trees in natural forests. It is undeniable that poor forest harvesting practices can contribute to the degradation and loss of natural forests; conversely, many forests have been harvested over long periods without noticeable declines in most values. Moreover, many natural forests are likely to increasingly require management interventions to ensure their long-term health in the face of climate change, fragmentation and other threats and to generate revenues for forest owners. With sufficient monitoring and safeguards to ensure that practices are compatible with sustainability, harvested natural forests can provide an important conservation complement to networks of protected forest areas.
- Maximize synergies among the three pathways, which are mutually reinforcing, and between agricultural, forestry, environmental and other policies, and minimize trade-offs. For example, conserving the biodiversity in natural forests by halting deforestation will ensure the maintenance of genetic resources, while forest and landscape restoration and agroforestry can help mainstream biodiversity in the agriculture sector. The sustainable management of natural forests and the creation of new forest and tree resources will add to the availability of wood fibre for more circular economies. There are clear links between the expansion of agriculture and deforestation, and the pathways have important implications for sectors such as climate, biodiversity conservation and economic recovery.
One of the benefits of international dialogue is that countries, organizations and communities can learn from other experiences to more rapidly develop feasible strategies tailored to local conditions. Global platforms such as those provided by the SDGs, the UNFCCC COPs (especially the follow-up to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use), the Convention on Biological Diversity COPs and the United Nations Food Systems Summit, as well as private sector platforms and regional-to-global networks and platforms that connect local communities, municipalities, forest producer groups and others, will all play a role in finding adequate responses to current crises and the opportunities that forests and trees provide.
The Earth is astonishingly rich in biodiversity and natural resources, but current trends indicate an imminent danger of squandering this natural wealth, thereby endangering the world’s diverse peoples and many other species. More immediately, there is a need to recover from the hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and to strive to ensure that all people are free from hunger and poverty. Humanity has the power to change environmental conditions at a planetary scale and an accompanying imperative to take action to maintain environmental conditions within boundaries that enable all life forms to flourish. Using nature-based approaches such as those involving trees and forests is a logical place to start in repairing the damage that has already been done to natural systems and in developing truly sustainable solutions to the problems and challenges articulated in this report. The beauty of trees and forests is that, if put to sustainable use, they can simultaneously perform many functions that benefit humanity and the planet as a whole – conserving biodiversity, mitigating and adapting to climate change, increasing resilience, generating green jobs, supporting food security and nutrition and ensuring an ongoing supply of materials. Indeed, it is only by restoring, conserving and sustainably managing forests that we will achieve sustainable agrifood systems and a better life for all.