Forests, forest stakeholders key for achieving Sustainable Development Goals

8 October 2020, Rome - Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals requires halting deforestation, protecting intact forests and restoring degraded forest landscapes – and an upsurge of action by communities, forest industries and responsible businesses provides the best hope of doing so, according to speakers in the High-Level Dialogue on Forests in the Decade of Action held during the 25th Session of the FAO Committee on Forestry last week.

The United Nations Secretary-General has called on all sectors of society to mobilize for a decade of action – comprising global action, local action and people action – to achieve the transformations needed to end poverty, safeguard the planet and build a peaceful world. This High-level Dialogue, held as part of the 25th Session of the FAO Committee on Forestry, generated insights and guidance on how forestry can contribute to the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs.

Tony Simons, Executive Director of CIFOR-ICRAF, who moderated the dialogue, noted that forests receive little explicit attention in the SDGs. This is surprising for a biome that, said Simons, covers 30 percent of land, transpires 60 percent of water and houses 80 percent of terrestrial biodiversity.

“Together we need to reimagine the role of forests to societies and to the climate,” he said. “It was trees that made the planet habitable for mammals and eventually humans – and their destruction will lead to the destruction of humans.”

Achim Steiner, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, who also spoke in the dialogue, referred to a “quadruple planetary emergency”, comprising a climate crisis, a nature crisis, an inequality crisis and now a global health crisis.

“As we tackle these interlinked crises, we must place forests front and centre over the next decade,” he said.

Steiner outlined reasons to be hopeful about “bending the curve” on forest protection, restoration and management by 2030. These are an increasing level of political will; the emergence of movements to put nature at the heart of sustainable development, business and finance; the growing success of carbon pricing; and moves to put indigenous peoples and their land rights at the centre of forest conservation.

Dialogue participants heard that indigenous peoples and the forests they rely on are already feeling the impacts of climate change. Chad, for example, has lost nearly one-third of its forest cover in the last 20 years, and the country is struggling with increased desertification and a dramatically shrinking Lake Chad. Worldwide, indigenous peoples are suffering from droughts, floods and increased temperatures, and communities are going hungry. On the other hand, indigenous peoples play crucial roles in protecting forests, and ensuring their rights and learning from them will help save the planet.

The situation is also critical in Jordan, where forests are vital for the ecosystem services they perform and the safety net they offer to vulnerable communities, including during the Syrian refugee crisis.

Participants were informed that the biggest challenge facing Canada’s forest sector today is responding to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The initial concern has been to ensure the health and safety of forestry workers and their communities. Nevertheless, the pandemic offers an opportunity to reimagine the sector, which can be a major part of the solution in supporting a green, inclusive economic recovery. The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a huge impact on forests and forest-dependent people in Mexico.

Speakers at the High-level Dialogue concluded that, although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused health, social and economic havoc around the world, it also offers an opportunity to pursue sustainable, climate-smart recovery plans. Carina Håkansson, the Chairperson of the Advisory Committee on Sustainable Forest-based Industries, told participants that the world will need more forests for many reasons, including to increase the supply of sustainably produced wood as an alternative to many of the fossil-fuel based products we currently rely on.

The 25th Session of COFO was convened virtually on 5–9 October 2020. More information on the session is available at


last updated:  Friday, October 16, 2020