Thoughts from CIFOR's Director General, Peter Holmgren

Forests feature in final UN meeting for framing Sustainable Development Goals

What role will forests play in the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals?

The forests of East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia, play important roles for livelihoods. What role will forests play in the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals? CIFOR photo

How should we define forestry for sustainable development? On 3-7 February 2014, this will be debated in the UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals. We are proud that CIFOR scientist Dr. Daju Resosudarmo has been invited to make a presentation and be on the expert panel at this important meeting.

The meeting is a unique opportunity to demonstrate how fundamentally important forests and forestry are for sustainable development, in particular the contributions that can be made across a wide range of development aspirations. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) process has also proven important for the debate on what we mean by “forestry” and for strengthening the position and perception of the sector.

Along these lines, CIFOR and partners have over the past year promoted a landscape perspective, especially through the Global Landscapes Forum. The proceedings from the Forum reinforce how essential it is to maintain a cross-sectoral perspective, especially across land-use sectors like forestry and agriculture, for better solutions to poverty, food security, climate change, biodiversity and green growth.

There will be a strong focus on forests and forestry in the UN over the next week. This is excellent for all of us that are engaged in these fields. But let us also remember the bigger picture, how sectors interact on the ground and the overall future we want!

So what is next week about?

It is now 19 months since the Rio+20 conference as the UN General Assembly prepares for this eighth and final Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) meeting. The OWG is the most prominent of a set of “work streams” that were set in motion to develop SDGs following the Rio+20 conclusions on “The Future We Want”.

Later this year we will see the report from the OWG and its proposed SDG framework. Representatives from the 71 member countries of the OWG will present these recommendations to the General Assembly and the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon.

For us engaged in forestry, it is significant that forests feature as a topic in the final OWG meeting. Over the course of the past six months, the OWG has discussed each of the topics that were elaborated at Rio+20, of which forests was one. When discussing how to include forests and forestry in the SDGs, I find it useful to reflect over the full set of topics and the context these provide. The list below follows the sequence of topics that the OWG has covered and the topics (#26-32) that will be covered in its final meeting:

  1. Poverty eradication
  2. Food security and nutrition
  3. Sustainable agriculture
  4. Desertification, land degradation and drought
  5. Water and sanitation
  6. Employment and decent work for all
  7. Social protection
  8. Youth
  9. Education and culture
  10. Health
  11. Population dynamics
  12. Sustained and inclusive economic growth
  13. Macroeconomic policy questions (including trade)
  14. Infrastructure development and industrialisation
  15. Energy
  16. Means of implementation including financing, science & technology, knowledge sharing and capacity building)
  17. Global partnership for achieving sustainable development
  18. Needs of countries in special situations
  19. Human rights
  20. The right to development
  21. Global governance
  22. Sustainable cities and human settlements
  23. Sustainable transport
  24. Sustainable consumption and production (including chemicals and waste)
  25. Climate change and disaster risk reduction
  26. Oceans and seas
  27. Forests
  28. Biodiversity
  29. Promoting equality, including social equity, gender equality and women’s empowerment
  30. Conflict prevention
  31. Post-conflict peace building and promotion of durable peace
  32. Rule of law and governance

Now, this long list of priorities is sobering and leads me to draw two conclusions: (a) there are many topics that are more important than forests per se, as they refer to overarching aspirations such as poverty eradication; (b) forests and forestry are relevant to a large number of the other topics as well. With this perspective, it is not so relevant to consider a stand-alone SDG on forests as an option, which is done in the OWG “issue brief” on forests. Instead we should identify how forestry can contribute more broadly in an integrated way — a more effective way to build awareness and strengthen the sector.

Let me also recall that it is desirable that the final set of SDGs are:

  • Action-oriented
  • Concise
  • Easy to communicate
  • Limited in number
  • Aspirational
  • Global in nature
  • Building on real development partnerships (across sectors and beyond aid)
  • Universally applicable to all countries

Readers of this blog may recall that I have made some suggestions in this direction and also related to the high-level panel report on SDGs  released in May 2013. One proposal I made was that “Sustainable Landscapes” would be an appropriate and cross-cutting SDG.

Regardless of how the final set of SDGs is constructed, we must define and communicate how forests and forestry relate to this bigger picture. More importantly, we must help deliver the significant contributions from forests and forestry to the future we want.

What can we do about creating measurable, scalable indicators for an SDG on landscapes? Read about that in my next post, here.

Further Reading

Angelsen, Arild; Wunder, Sven (2003). Exploring the Forest-Poverty link: Key Concepts, Issues and Research Implications. CIFOR Occassional Paper No. 40. http://www.cifor.org/publications/pdf_files/occpapers/op-40.pdf

Colfer, Carol J.; Sheil, Douglas; Kishi, Misa. Forests and Human Health. Assessing the Evidence. CIFOR Occassional Paper No. 45. http://www.cifor.org/publications/pdf_files/OccPapers/OP-45.pdf

Ickowitz, Amy et al. (2014). Dietary quality and tree cover in Africa. Global Environmental Change. In press, available online: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959378013002318

Nasi, R., Taber, A. and van Vliet, N. (2011). Empty forests, empty stomachs? Bushmeat and livelihoods in the Congo and Amazon Basins. International Forestry Review 13(3): 355-368. http://www.cifor.org/nc/online-library/browse/view-publication/publication/3580.html

Sunderland, T.C.H. (2011). Food security: why is biodiversity important? International Forestry Review 13(3): 355-368. http://www.cifor.org/nc/online-library/browse/view-publication/publication/3577.html

Sayer et al. (2013). Ten principles for a landscape approach to reconciling agriculture, conservation, and other competing land uses. http://www.pnas.org/content/110/21/8349

Sunderlin et al. (2005). Livelihoods, Forests and Conservation in Developing Countries: An Overview. World Development, 33 (9), pp. 1383-1402.
http://www.cciforum.org/pdfs/Livelihoods%20forests%20and%20conservation%20in%20developing%20countries.pdf


  • http://www.canadianborealforestagreement.com Aran O’Carroll

    Peter:

    I could agree more – “we must help deliver the significant contributions from forests and forestry to the future we want”. We at the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement are busy doing that in the Canadian context. Visit us on-line http://www.canadianborealforestagreement.com

    Regards,

    Aran
    Aran O’Carroll
    Executive Director
    Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement Secretariat

  • James Bampton

    The SDGs are indeed an important opportunity, and one not to be missed. It is also correct to point out that “it is not so relevant to consider a stand-alone SDG on forests as an option” – indeed, we must note that the over-simplification of MDG indicator relating to maintaining forest cover led many governments to simply ‘pretend’ to be trying to achieve this, when in reality they instead knew it was not in their best national interests and instead they wished to convert large areas to alternative land uses. This prevented debate on what should have been the most important questions for most countries – how much forest should be converted? to what? where? and by whom? If the forests are put under local control in answer the last question just posed, the first three questions would be determined to some extent by local people. Therefore, perhaps instead of focusing on the extent of forest in the SDGs, we should instead be focusing on an indicator for forest tenure and the extent of community ownership or control. In this context, taking a landscape approach and at the same time working in social justice, gender and equity issues over land tenure is surely an appropriate overarching approach that combines many of the aspects of “the future we want”.
    James Bampton
    RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests

  • Louis Carbonnier

    Peter,

    I fully agree with your approach. We have to get away from the prestige battle and turf fighting between different sectors/specialists/institutions and reach common goals that involve all sectors affecting the landscape.

    Best regards

    Louis