Forests and the Sustainable Development Goals

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Forests and the Sustainable Development Goals

by Maddie Craig - May 30, 2018


Forests play a clear role in supporting Sustainable Development Goal 15 – they support 80% of all biodiversity on land. But forests also play an essential role in helping achieve each of the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Essential life support – water, health and food (Goals 2, 3 and 6)

Forests provide three out of four people in the world with drinking water and provide essential water purification services for thousands of cities around the world. Forest protected areas supply drinking water for one-third of the world’s largest cities and more than 3,200 of the largest cities could significantly improve their water quality and quantity through nature-based solutions, including reforestation and improved forest management. In addition to water, forests are also vital sources of food for the more than a billion people who depend on them, and they provide more than 50,000 medicines derived from forest products. In addition, agroforestry provides many benefits to subsistence farmers, including improved soil quality, diversification of products, and improved yields, contributing to reducing hunger (Goal 2). These benefits from forests indirectly contribute to other Global Goals. For example, increased water purification systems lead  to higher school attendance rates (contributing to Goal 4 on education), decreased incidences of water-borne diseases, such as malaria transmission, and lower prevalence of diarrhea, severe stunting and severe anemia  (Goal 3 on health), and provide safe and secure access to water for urban areas (Goal 11 on sustainable cities).

Climate resilience, mitigation and adaptation

Forests also play a key role in contributing to climate resilience – mangrove forests reduce sedimentation in the oceans, (contributing to Goal 14 on oceans and indirectly to Goal 2 on food), while buffering coastal communities from the impacts of coastal storms. Furthermore, healthy forests are imperative for mitigating climate change, and we cannot meet our climate goals, including the Paris Climate Agreement (and Goal 13 on climate action), without forests. Forests offer one-third of the cost-effective natural climate solutions needed to hold warming below 2o C, while deforestation causes about 10% of global carbon emissions.

Jobs, energy, economies and livelihoods

About one-third of the world’s population uses fuelwood to cook food, and about three out of five people also rely on wood for heating and electricity generation, emphasizing the critical link between forests and Goal 7, affordable and clean energy. Forests also contribute to decent work and economic growth (Goal 8); according to FAO, approximately 883 million people in developing countries are employed in the wood energy sector, and forests sustain the livelihoods of 1.3 billion people.

Peace and security

Forest degradation is a major threat to peace and strong institutions (Goal 16). In 2017, of the 197 environmental defenders who were killed while protecting their land, many of them were linked to deforestation. Illegal logging is often facilitated by organized crime, corruption, and lack of law enforcement. As a result of weak forest governance, illegal timber accounts for over 70% of the income of countries’ timber exports.

An investment in sustainable forests is an investment in the Sustainable Development Goals

Despite the benefits that forests provide for sustainable development, they are highly undervalued and overexploited. Forests are disappearing at a rate of 13 million hectares per year. Agricultural expansion accounts for 80% of deforestation globally and 70% of deforestation in the tropics is linked to the production of agricultural commodities, mainly from beef, palm oil, soy, timber, and paper, further exacerbating the challenges of achieving Goal 12, responsible consumption and production.

Deforestation is also a major barrier to achieving zero poverty (Goal 1), gender equality (Goal 5), and reduced inequality (Goal 10). Approximately 75% of the world’s poor are affected directly by land degradation, and women often have less access to, and control over, forest land and resources than men, further exacerbating gender inequality. Failure to conserve and sustainably manage forests comes at a cost to marginalized groups and is a detriment to their livelihoods and well-being.

The Global Platform for the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF Global Platform), led by the United Nations Development Programme, outlines ten global forest goals, which are aligned with the SDGs, including halting forest loss by 2030, promoting strong governance and community rights, fostering sustainable consumption and production, reducing emissions, restoring degraded forest land, and generating alternative livelihoods for forest communities.

Governments, companies, and consumers should consider sustainable forest management not only as a way to prevent land degradation, but also as a means to achieving e the broader Sustainable Development Goals. Governments should realize the full value of forests not just for land but also for economic and social benefits like health, education, income generation, and gender equality. This can be accomplished by including forests conservation in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as a pathway to mitigating climate change and achieving the SDGs. Companies should also realize the value of forests for achieving human development and environmental sustainability to improve business practices and reducing their business risk from deforestation. Finally, consumers should understand the full impacts of their diets and consumption habits, and ensure sustainable consumption of the top forest-risk commodities of beef, palm oil, soy, and paper. Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals will have profound global benefits and forests play an essential role in ensuring that all 17 goals are met by 2030.


About the Author

Maddie Craig is a Programme Assistant for
UNDP's Global Programme on Nature for Development working to support the Global Platform for the New York Declaration on Forests in New York.


Follow her on Twitter at @MadelineACraig

To find more blog posts, visit the NYDF Blog.


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