The Advisory Committee on Sustainable Forest-based Industries identifies priorities for building back better

©Benjamin Caldwell9 June 2020, Rome -The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting all parts of our lives across the world including food trade, food supply chains and markets as well as people’s lives, livelihoods and nutrition.

Forest products have supported livelihoods throughout the pandemic delivering essential items, such as hygiene and sanitary products, biomass for heating, ethanol for sanitizer, respirator paper and packaging for parcels.

While the crisis is not over, governments, civil society, academia, development partners and the private sector are starting to imagine how we might embark upon a recovery – from a human health, economic, social and environmental perspective. There are strong calls across the spectrum to build back better together - but how the world will achieve that goal remains a work in progress.  

The Advisory Committee on Sustainable Forest-based Industries (ACSFI) is a statutory body that guides FAO on issues at stake for the sustainable consumption and production of forest products and provides a forum for dialogue between FAO and the private sector to identify strategic actions that promote sustainable forest management. The ACSFI hosted on 27 May 2020 a webinar attracting over 200 participants, mainly from the private sector that identified key actions for FAO and the private sector to coordinate and collaborate to optimise the contribution that the forest sector can sustainably make to building back better.

The webinar included four eminent speakers that have an extensive knowledge and understanding of the global forest sector: Dr David Brand; Chief Executive Officer (CEO) New Forests, Dr Mike May; Vice President Public Affairs, Futura Gene-Suzano, Dr Jennifer Jenkins, Vice President & Chief Sustainability Officer, Enviva, Mr Howard Parry-Husbands; CEO Pollinate. The webinar was opened by Mr Derek Nighbor, Chair of the International Council of Forest and Paper Associations, closed by Ms Carina Hakansson, Director-General, Swedish Forest Industries Association and Chair of the ACSFI and facilitated by Mr Ross Hampton, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) and Vice Chair of the ACSFI

Mr Hampton recognised in his opening comments that sustainably managed forests play an integral role across the world in securing livelihoods, delivering a wide range of products and providing part of the solution towards mitigating climate change and the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals. While the current situation has been challenging, the current crisis and upcoming decade as we build back provides unique and perhaps enhanced opportunities for the forest sector to contribute to the world’s capacity to live sustainably and in harmony with our natural environment.

The panelists provided an overview of the impact of COVID-19 in their relevant regions. Immediate and material impacts of the pandemic on the forest sector have included shut down or partial shut down of operations, disruption of certain supply chains, a lack of market certainty and for some products, depressed prices and contracting markets.

While the panelists were from different geographic regions and had a focus on different forest resources and product outputs, all provided a strong emphasis on the significant contribution that the forest sector can make to climate change mitigation and the development of a bioeconomy as the world seeks to build back better.

In particular, the webinar identified the importance of FAO, the private sector and other relevant stakeholders to work closely together to build a shared narrative and goals for all forests for a better future based on sustainable forest products. FAO’s convening power, global reach, independence and trusted consensus building approach makes it ideal for leading and coordinating such an ambition.

“Build Back Better” was a common theme arising from the presentations and discussions. The pandemic could offer positive opportunities for the forest sector, including:

  • Build Back Better Together –a collaborative approach of all stakeholders concerned, including governments, civil society, academia, development partners (including FAO) and the private sector to facilitate collaboration and coordination of shared initiatives, and definitions of success that identify gaps and address deliverables.
  • Build Back Better Informed - joint research efforts and actions to inform responsible supply and demand systems as well as strategic communications.
  • Build Back Better with “The Ultimate Renewable™” –forestry being a driving force in a post COVID-19 world:  1) development and use of robust and shared data on future supply and demand in forest products; 2) cooperation and collaboration across the forest-related sectors, and 3) strategic planning to provide an enabling and impact-oriented framework for joint and coordinated action.

In closing the webinar, Ms Carina Hakansson thanked the insightful contributions that the panelists made. She recognised the sector’s capacity to respond to the impacts caused by COVID-19 and provide society with a sustainable approach to building back better. However, the sector’s capacity to do this in the most meaningful and optimal way will require cooperation. FAO, in collaboration with the ACSFI has the capacity to help the forest sector deliver on this potential. Most importantly it can lead the development of a narrative for the sector to be a force for good and build back a better, sustainable environment and society. Such a narrative must be based on robust, reliable and timely data. While the collation and analysis of such data will rely on financial and intellectual investment from across the global forest sector, the outcomes of such an effort will enable the sector to deliver the sustainable, re-usable, recyclable, and renewable materials that society is increasingly demanding.

Presentations from the webinar:

last updated:  Wednesday, October 7, 2020