Forests and the SDGs: Overcoming development challenges through collaborative institutional frameworks

The IUCN World Conservation Congress held in September in Hawaii drew attention to the crucial link between protecting and enhancing ecosystems and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As we celebrate one year of the SDGs, Salome Begeladze of IUCN’s forest team reflects on a session held by IUCN and partners on this topic.

Woman writing on wall with other illustrations and words

Since the launch of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, IUCN with its members has been advocating and building partnerships to ensure that the 17 SDGs and 169 associated targets are at the heart of the conservation agenda. To simultaneously achieve multiple SDGs, communities and businesses will need to find new ways to invest in and manage their land, forest and water resources to secure the full range of goods and services needed from healthy ecosystems.

On 5 September 2016, representatives from IUCN, the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP), Global Forest Coalition (GFC), Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa (GDSA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) met to share experiences and to chart a roadmap for employing nature-based solutions (NbS) to global challenges such as climate change, poverty and gender inequity.

Lee Anne French (Director of Programmes, NCEAS) placed special emphasis on SDG 17 that calls for partnerships to address critical global challenges, saying, “Now is the time to reach out to organisations and communities and work across issue areas.”

Miguel Calmon (Senior Manager, IUCN’s forest team) presented the forest landscape restoration (FLR) approach championed by IUCN and underpinning the Bonn Challenge and their contribution to achieving SDGs 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 15 and 17. The goal of FLR is to transform deforested and degraded landscapes into productive, multi-functional ecosystems that benefit communities and the environment. By its very definition, FLR is participatory and incorporates the considerations of diverse stakeholders. Calmon also highlighted the partnerships that have formed to drive FLR, including the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration (GPFLR).

He provided an overview of how the world can transition to sustainable land-use by 2030 and showcased work done in China, Niger, the Republic of Korea and Tanzania. Importantly, Calmon discussed the gender dimension of FLR and provided insight into the valuable role women play in implementing restoration projects. He stressed the role of the Bonn Challenge as an implementation vehicle for international climate change, biodiversity and land degradation commitments.

Charles McNeill (Senior Advisor, Forests and Climate, UNDP) built on Calmon’s points, highlighting the close connection between forests and poverty. He reminded participants that a significant percentage of the income of the poor comes from forests, with 50-90% of their total income dependent on forest products. He spoke about the importance of helping countries finance the management of forests and the sustainable production of forest goods.

He pointed out that several progress indicators of the SDGs do not account for environmental synergies and highlighted the need for this dimension to be incorporated. Referring to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), he called on parties to use the available money in a streamlined, effective manner and highlighted the importance for land- and sea-scape level planning.

Lorena Aguilar (Global Senior Gender Advisor, IUCN) highlighted the immense potential of women, citing FAO data showing that women could increase yields by 20-30% if they had access to the same resources as men. At a global level, this could decrease the number of hungry people by 12-17%. She spoke about Malawi as a country that is making a concerted effort to involve women in environment projects, such as the IUCN-supported FLR initiative. She pointed out that only 28 countries in the world give women the same rights as men when it comes to owning and accessing land.

seven people sitting behind a table with one standing at a podium.

Isis Alvarez (Senior Gender Advisor, GFC) focused on the role of women in achieving the SDGs and spoke about the importance of involving indigenous communities in conservation. Ruud Jansen (Executive Secretary, GDSA) and Craig Groves (Executive Director, SNAPP) took the floor to discuss the role of private-public-NGO partnerships in achieving the SDGs. Jansen spoke about natural capital accounting for sustainable economic growth and how maintaining social capital is essential for development. He spoke about the role of the GDSA in integrating natural capital in decision making and their work with extractive industries on sustainability. Groves highlighted the work done by SNAPP that facilitates 24 working groups comprising nearly 600 scientists and 250 institutions focused on leveraging science for conservation. He said, “This is the time for us to break down silos in our organisations and disciplinary thinking to reach across the room and talk to everyday people in our lives, because this is how we will find new solutions and new partnerships.”

Participants discussed the need to fix institutional frameworks that are limiting progress on the SDGs and the factors that could tip governments in favour of acting on environmental issues.

In the coming months, IUCN’s forest team will be working with members and partner organizations to continue highlighting the role of NbS in overcoming development challenges and supporting the development of effective partnerships to implement them.  This work is also well aligned with the Resolution adopted by the General Assembly (A/70/L.60) on "Follow-up and Review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the global level", specifically, on the 2017 theme “Eradicating Poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world” and the 2018 theme “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies” during which goals 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 12, and 15 will be reviewed in depth.  

Investing in forests for poverty alleviation, eradicating hunger, gender equality, water and energy security, sustainable production, climate change, and life on land, through all levels of collaboration – will be instrumental in turning these goals into reality.

More information on how IUCN is championing forests and key messages on healthy ecosystems can be found here

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