There will be no healthy economy on an unhealthy planet. Environmental deterioration is contributing to climate change, biodiversity loss and the emergence of new diseases. Forests and trees can play crucial roles in addressing these crises and moving towards sustainable economies.
Three interrelated pathways involving forests and trees can support economic and environmental recovery. These are (1) halting deforestation and maintaining forests; (2) restoring degraded lands and expanding agroforestry; and (3) sustainably using forests and building green value chains.
The world will need more renewable materials because of a growing population and the need to reduce environmental impacts. The forest sector can and must drive a transition to the more efficient and circular use of biomaterials with higher value added.
Forest and farm producers need more incentive to scale up green recovery. They must derive substantial tangible benefits from restoring and sustainably managing forest and tree resources.
The forest pathways can contribute to building inclusive, resilient and sustainable economies. Doing so optimally will require shifts in policies to maximize synergies among the pathways and between agriculture and forestry across agrifood systems and to encourage private sector investments.
- ➔ Trees, forests and sustainable forestry can help the world recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and combat looming environmental crises such as climate change and biodiversity loss. But this requires societies to better recognize the considerable value of forests and their crucial roles in building inclusive, resilient and sustainable economies.
- ➔ Three pathways involving forests and trees offer means by which societies, communities and individual landowners, users and managers can derive more tangible value from forests and trees while addressing environmental degradation, recovering from crises, preventing future pandemics, increasing resilience and transforming economies:
- 1. Halting deforestation and maintaining forests could avoid emitting 3.6 +/- 2 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) per year between 2020 and 2050, including about 14 percent of what is needed up to 2030 to keep planetary warming below 1.5 °C, while safeguarding more than half the Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity.
- 2. Restoring degraded lands and expanding agroforestry – 1.5 billion ha of degraded land would benefit from restoration, and increasing tree cover could boost agricultural productivity on another 1 billion ha. Restoring degraded land through afforestation and reforestation could cost-effectively take 0.9–1.5 GtCO2e per year out of the atmosphere between 2020 and 2050.
- 3. Sustainably using forests and building green value chains would help meet future demand for materials – with global consumption of all natural resources expected to more than double from 92 billion tonnes 2017 to 190 billion tonnes in 2060 – and underpin sustainable economies.
- ➔ The three pathways are mutually reinforcing. When synergies are maximized, the pathways can provide some of the highest returns in the form of climate and environmental benefits while also enhancing local sustainable development potential, adaptive capacity and resilience.
- ➔ Shifts in policies are needed to divert financial flows away from actions that harm forests and to incentivize investment in conservation, restoration and sustainable use. Finance for the three forest pathways needs to at least triple (to more than USD 200 billion per year for forest establishment and management alone) by 2030 to meet climate, biodiversity and land degradation neutrality targets. REDD+ frameworks have advanced in recent years and implementation and finance are scaling up. This and other related results-based payment schemes could play a key role in supporting developing countries to move along the forest pathways.
- ➔ Smallholders, local communities and Indigenous Peoples own or manage nearly half – 4.35 billion ha – of the world’s forest and farm landscapes and will be crucial for scaling up implementation of the pathways. According to one estimate, smallholders on such lands generate a gross annual income of up to USD 1.29 trillion. More than 8.5 million producer organizations now exist to help local actors participate in and support a green recovery.
- ➔ Companies in forest-based value chains will be essential partners in the development of circular economies. Many are already expanding the range of forest products as substitutes for materials with higher greenhouse-gas emissions and increasing processing efficiency. Local forest growers and processors can obtain more benefit by strengthening links with buyers and developing capacity through producer organizations.
- ➔ Scaling up action on the three forest pathways carries risks, especially for smallholders, whose investments in them could fail in the absence of supportive policies and institutions. Risks associated with climate change, such as increased vulnerability to fire, pests and drought, also need to be managed.
- ➔ Starting points for moving swiftly along the pathways may include:
- 1. directing funding for recovery towards long-term policies aimed at creating sustainable and green jobs and further mobilizing private sector investment;
- 2. empowering and incentivizing local actors, including women, youth and Indigenous Peoples, to take a leading role in the forest pathways;
- 3. engaging in awareness raising and policy dialogue on sustainable forest use as a means for simultaneously achieving economic and environmental goals; and
- 4. maximizing synergies among the three forest pathways and between agricultural, forestry, environmental and other policies and minimizing trade-offs.