Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The final meeting of the 30-member UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is convening to address the last of 32 themes to be considered as part of the formulation of the SDGs. The role of forests is one of those themes.
The SDGs — a proposed framework to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in 2015 — are intended to guide global action on health, poverty, hunger, climate and other development challenges.
Forests cut across all of them.
“Forests are important throughout the development agenda,” said Peter Holmgren, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). “They’re important for food security, for protecting the environment, for climate change, for the green economy — so we can’t really place forests in one box. We need to figure out how forests can contribute across the range of SDGs.”
Forests maintain water supplies, help mitigate climate change, and provide billions of the world’s poorest people with income, food and medicine. Global policy makers know well the value of forests, but development interventions have failed to leverage their contributions to ecosystems and livelihoods.
Furthermore, global development frameworks in recent years — the MDGs among them — have tended to be sector-based, addressing narrow issues through narrow means. For example, though the MDGs made tangible gains in slashing poverty and hunger while increasing access to primary education and maternal care, among their documented shortcomings was a failure to address the environment in an integrated and cross-sectoral way.
“The MDGs were quite specific, and often sector-bound,” Holmgren said in an interview.
But even in the SDGs, forests alone won’t save the day: “We can’t really find the solutions if we only look at the forests,” he said. Instead, Holmgren recommends a landscapes approach — one that considers multiple sectors such as forests and agriculture jointly in a given area — to provide the basis to discuss common solutions.
To that end, an SDG on “sustainable landscapes” will be proposed in New York. CIFOR Scientist Daju Resosudarmo, invited to speak to the UN Open Working Group, will call upon the members to consider an SDG that addresses several landscape functions, such as livelihood provision, ecosystem services and food production. Forests are a major component in these functions, and she will argue that an SDG targeting them is potentially beneficial not just for forests themselves but for the success of the overall development goals.
“We are not only asking how forests can be harnessed for poverty eradication and sustainable development,” Resosudarmo said in prepared remarks. “We can also turn the question on its head and examine how a new development framework can support forests and forestry in fulfilling their multiple functions.”
An SDG on sustainable landscapes could count on political support behind it. At a UN Forum on Forests meeting in April 2013, representatives from Ghana and China urged for a cross-cutting approach to forests and development, with a focus on poverty eradication. Indonesian representatives did likewise, calling for an SDG “that includes poverty eradication, sustainable growth and equity, and forests,” rather than a stand-alone goal specific to forests.
Holmgren is hopeful that policy makers will incorporate this approach and emphasized that the SDGs are a useful chance to find joint solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.
“The SDGs represent an opportunity,” he said. “It is a new way of formulating where we want to take the planet and where we want to take human society.”
The SDGs will be finalised in September 2015.