Programa sobre los bosques y el agua

The forest-water nexus: Contributions from community monitoring with an integrated management approach


Forests are intrinsically linked to water because of their role in the water cycle: When forests and trees are managed sustainably, they can contribute to improving water quality, quantity and timing and in turn, reduce risks related to water such as floods, soil erosion and droughts. They also provide cooling and rainfall generation benefits, which help stabilize local and regional climate, protect human health and contribute to agricultural productivity (Ellison et al. 2017, Lawrence et al. 2022, FAO 2022).

Currently, more than 2 billion people live in countries under water stress and around 4 billion people experience severe water scarcity for at least one month of the year (UNESCO 2019; UN Water 2021; FAO 2020). At the same time, since 2000, flood and drought disasters have increased by 134 and 29 percent respectively (WMO 2021). These water-related challenges will be exacerbated by climate change, and will in turn negatively affect the agricultural production needed to meet the demands of a growing global population (FAO 2020).


Climate change adaptation, mitigation, and the forest-water nexus

Forests and trees are fundamental tools in the mitigation and adaptation to climate change, because they are affected by this process, and are also key for adaptation and the resilience of people in all sectors and scales (FAO, 2022 ; Libert-Amico et al., 2022).  The reduction of emissions due to deforestation and forest degradation, sustainable forest management and the conservation and improvement of carbon reserves (REDD+) (UNFCCC, 2023), constitute a fundamental part of the efforts for mitigating climate change. This is due to the fundamental role that these ecosystems play in the removal of carbon dioxide equivalent[1] (CO2e) from the atmosphere, and its storage. This also implies that when forests are cleared or degraded, they can become a source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Recent estimates indicate that halting deforestation could effectively prevent the emission of 3.6 +/– 2 GtCO2e per year between 2020 and 2050 (FAO, 2022)

Because of the functions outlined above, forests have received specific attention in the Paris Agreement[2], adopted by the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2015. This process has provided a framework for the expansion of REDD+ initiatives in several countries at different scales, while also promoting social and environmental co-benefits derived from these initiatives such as biodiversity conservation, improvement of livelihoods for local communities, conservation of water sources, among others.

The REDD+ experience has highlighted how forest-based global climate initiatives can promote good governance innovations in national policies and programs, fostering collaborative processes involving people, governments, public, private and civic organizations ( Libert-Amico et al., 2022). In relation to forests and water, the implementation of REDD+ initiatives, together with strengthening of good forest governance, though, for example, participatory community monitoring actions, provide strategies that help mainstream climate change mitigation and adaptation actions with integrated landscape management focus.


FAO's work

FAO leads the development of activities related to the forest-water nexus and provides support to developing countries in their REDD+ processes, as well as in the implementation of their political commitments and actions as outlined in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

The Forestry Division of FAO, through the Forest and Water Programme, established in 2016, has led the work and developed activities on the forest-water nexus. Its objective is to increase the knowledge base to better understand the relationships between forests and water and the contribution of these interactions to water and food security, as well as community resilience and adaptation and mitigation to climate change. The programme also advocates and supports member countries in the inclusion of water issues in forest or territorial planning, emphasizing landscape management approaches.

In addition, within the framework of the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD Programme), launched in 2008, support has been provided to more than 64 countries following the guidelines of the UNFCCC, with technical assistance from FAO, UNDP and UN environment. FAO provides technical assistance on issues related to: i) improving the role of forests in climate action (specifically compliance with NDCs), ii) supporting the implementation of REDD+ policies and actions, and iii) unlocking funding from public and private sources (especially through results-based payment mechanisms).

In Colombia, between 2015 and 2018, the UN-REDD National Programme was developed and implemented. The programme supported the strengthening of national capacities for REDD+ and the main result was the National REDD+ Strategy: Integrated Strategy for Deforestation Control and Forest Management. Multiple actions have resulted from the strategy benefiting forests and local communities. Currently, and since 2018, UN-REDD continued the Technical Assistance of the Global Program in the country, based on the needs identified by the Government of Colombia.

The forest-water nexus and its link to global initiatives is gaining importance in the region. Proof of this is the World Water Week 2022 event "The nexus between forests and water in Latin America" where countries from Mesoamerica, shared experiences from Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico. In April 2023, Colombia will organize an experience exchange workshop that aims to raise awareness of the importance of the links between forests and water, their relevance to different international processes and the importance of community monitoring through landscape approaches.

This event is organized within the framework of the strategic partnership between the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies -IDEAM- and the United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO) in Colombia. It is part of the project: Natural resource management through the analysis of information and environmental knowledge, which receives technical assistance from the UN-REDD Program in the country.

To register for the event (only available in Spanish) please follow this link:

[1] Equivalent carbon dioxide emissions are calculated by multiplying the emission of a greenhouse gas by its warming potential.

[2]International agreement that aims to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels, and provides a clear policy framework to promote forest-based adaptation and mitigation through multiple actions