A series of recent high-level international conferences have brought together a record number of forestry experts and delegates, calling for putting forests at the center of conversations on the world’s most pressing environmental and health issues.
The 15th World Forestry Congress was held in Seoul, South Korea, from May 2-6 and highlighted the importance of forests in addressing climate change, biodiversity loss, land degradation, hunger and poverty. This year, the inclusion of women, the role of young people and indigenous communities in the preservation of forests and the importance of financing to reduce deforestation were on the agenda. The fight against unsustainable commodity production – the main cause of deforestation – was also highlighted.
The following week, the 17th session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF 17), was held in New York. These two conferences follow the Covid-19 pandemic, which was a stark reminder that if nature and forests are not protected and used sustainably, humanity runs the risk of the emergence of new infectious and zoonotic diseases.
The UN pointed out that the Covid-19 crisis has also set back the implementation of sustainable forest management, jeopardizing the viability of forests in many regions.
With more than 15,000 participants from 146 countries from governments and international organizations, the private sector, academic and research institutions, NGOs and indigenous groups, the 15th World Forestry Congress was the largest gathering of this kind never organized.
Forests and sustainable forest management can provide solutions to the various challenges we currently face.
Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director General, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
The result was: the Seoul Declaration on Forests, which sets out shared roles and responsibilities to ensure a sustainable future for the world’s forests; the ministerial call on sustainable wood; and a call to youth action. All underline the need for increased and immediate efforts to support forest actors at all levels.
“The most important result, in my opinion, is the sense of urgency,” said Maria Helena Semedo, deputy director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
“Forests and sustainable forest management can provide solutions to the various challenges we are currently facing: the climate crisis, deforestation, the sustainable use of natural resources and the biodiversity crisis,” she added. .
According to the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020, conducted by FAO, 420 million hectares of forest have been lost since 1990. Although the rate of deforestation is declining, it has continued at around 10 million hectares per year between 2015 and 2020. South America and Africa lead the ranking of fastest losses, recording annual rates of net forest loss of 2.6 million hectares and 3.9 million hectares, respectively , between 2010 and 2020.
Agricultural raw materials, including beef, soybeans, palm oil and paper, are the main drivers, being responsible for more than 40% of global deforestation.
At the World Forestry Congress, FAO launched the State of the World’s Forests 2022 report, which highlighted these issues. Qu Dongyu, FAO Director-General, highlighted three priorities identified in the report: halting deforestation and sustaining forests; restoration of degraded lands and expansion of reforestation, through increased cover of grasses and bushes to prevent soil erosion; and ensuring sustainable value chains.
Peter Csoka, Associate Secretary General of the Seoul Congress, elaborated on these avenues for progress: “What we would like to discuss in more detail is how to stop deforestation, how to restore ecosystems, how to make our lives healthier and more line with nature, and how we can make forestry an economically profitable activity that provides livelihoods for millions of people.
Financing and agricultural commodities
A common topic for both conferences was finance and its role in preventing deforestation. In its final report on the work of UNFF 17, the UN has frequently referred to the various socio-economic and environmental challenges that the forestry sector has faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
These include mobility restrictions, as well as reduced investment and low prioritization of forests in national plans. A shortage of trained personnel, financial and technological constraints, and disruptions in trade and supply chains for timber and other forest products have also contributed to the difficulties.
The New York gathering also saw calls to mobilize support from the private sector and the international development community for a post-Covid-19 recovery. The need to identify additional financing alternatives to support sustainable forest management and the production of timber and non-timber products was highlighted. The Global Forest Finance Facilitation Network, established by the United Nations Forum on Forests in 2015, was highlighted as having an important role to play in helping countries design forest finance strategies.
At a Ministerial Forum on Forest Finance at the Seoul Congress, attended by representatives from the Ministries of Forestry, Environment and Finance, discussions focused on the importance of promoting local markets for sustainable products and the redirection of subsidies to include sustainable forestry and agroforestry; According to the FAO, of the US$540 billion in agricultural subsidies granted each year worldwide, 86% are associated with harmful effects.
Securing land tenure and land rights was also on the ministerial agenda, along with supporting market-based measures for sustainable food systems and increasing transparency in supply chains.
The challenge of agricultural commodities driving deforestation was addressed in several targeted events at the World Forestry Congress. For example, sessions on scaling up agrifood finance and markets discussed how to improve positive finance for forests from the public and private sectors, in order to transform food systems and support biodiversity. sustainable production of commodities.
Members from various countries shared the lessons they have learned so far. Benjamin Singer, Senior Forest and Land Use Specialist at the Green Climate Fund, described approaches to encourage deforestation-free supply chains that include “transformational planning and programming, encouraging climate innovation and the scaling up of models using different financial means and aligning national finance with sustainable development”. development.”
Maggie Charnley, International Forestry Unit, UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, highlighted the importance of involving stakeholders and traders in supply chains. She said strict laws can give consumers confidence that they are not contributing to deforestation when purchasing a product.
Wendy Arenas of Alisos, a Colombian sustainable development NGO, highlighted regulatory challenges for industries such as cocoa, in which around 70% of production is carried out by millions of smallholder farmers. She expressed concern about who should pay the additional costs associated with sustainability certifications.
Ravi Muthayah, Secretary General of Malaysia’s Ministry of Plantations and Commodities, explained his country’s policy approach to ending unsustainable commodity production practices, including a commitment to limit the area planted with palm trees. oil to 6.5 million hectares.
It is hoped that all these lessons will contribute to the development of the sustainable agricultural production sector, as the demand for food increases and the need to stop deforestation becomes an increasingly high priority.
Challenges and obstacles remain significant, but ahead of a series of vital environmental meetings later this year – including the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt and the COP15 biodiversity talks in Montreal, Canada – recent forestry conferences may have built some momentum around the sector’s concerns, needs and importance in the face of converging global crises.
This article was originally published on China Dialogue under a Creative Commons license.