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Why Partnerships for Forests are Critical to Achieving the SDGs

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As world governments meet this week to set goals for eradicating poverty and create sustainable development opportunities, we are marking Climate Week NYC with a particular focus today on forests. While forests feature prominently within a number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they are not just about environmental conservation but an integral part of the climate and development agendas.

 
 

Forests are critical to climate security. According to the latest IPCCC report, about 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are tied to deforestation; with up to 20 percent of all the abatement potential identified in the land-use sector. A recent review by the Economist magazine ranked Brazil’s successful reduction in deforestation as one of the most effective climate actions of the last decade.

 
 

Forests are extremely important to food security, water security and livelihoods — 200 million people live in forests and 1.6 billion depend on them for their livelihoods. And as half of the watershed area of the 100 largest cities in the world is forested, forest protection and reforestation in urban watersheds could improve water quality for over 500 million urban dwellers.

 
 

The importance of forests to the human development and climate agenda was recognized in last year’s New York Declaration on Forests, which now has about 180 nations, companies, indigenous people and other organizations committed to halve deforestation by 2020 and stop it by 2030, while at the same achieving ambitious reforestation and forest restoration target. The New York Declaration on Forests was unprecedented in the critical mass of forest nations, global agricultural commodity companies and consumer goods companies that got behind its goals. One year later, we are seeing how these commitments are starting to translate into concrete initiatives that engage governments, and producer and consumer companies.

 
 

There are many lessons emerging from this work, but one is particularly important as we approach the UN climate change conference in Paris this fall. The lesson is that success at the scale and speed needed requires strong partnership and coordination between many stakeholders, including the public and private sectors and civil society. This is important because the problem must be addressed from both ends – from the top-down (government and corporate policy-setting) and from the bottom-up (project-based work with farmers and forest communities).

 
 

Initiatives to improve forest practices and achieve sustainable agricultural on the ground need the right policy conditions to succeed, particularly for land tenure, land-use planning and corporate purchasing policies. And top-down policies need strong change agents to translate them into real benefits for rural communities and the forest.

 
 

The centrality of partnerships — recognized by a dedicated sustainable development goal, SDG 17 — is thus critical for solutions. It is in this spirit that several of the signers of the New York Declaration are also members of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020) — a public-private partnership in which partners take voluntary actions to reduce the tropical deforestation associated with the sourcing of commodities such as palm oil, soy, beef and paper and pulp.

 
 

Current TFA 2020 partners include six national governments, over 10 buyer and producer companies, and the Consumer Goods Forum — an umbrella organization of over 400 companies and 25 NGOs and civil society groups. In its first initiative, the Tropical Forest Alliance is helping to bring together companies and governments in West Africa to ensure that palm oil production supports sustainable and equitable development in the region without damaging the environment or the livelihoods of forest-dependent people.

 
 

Collaborative partnerships are inherently difficult to engage in for established institutions, and require the right level of commitment, mindset and resourcing to succeed. To this end, the TFA 2020 has established a secretariat, hosted at the World Economic Forum, to accelerate the progress of this collaborative effort. Over the next year the TFA secretariat will work to build a platform for its partners to facilitate public-private dialogues, both globally and regionally, around key commodities: palm oil, beef, soy, and pulp and paper.

 
 

Similarly, the signers of the Indonesia Palm Oil Pledge, an initiative that seeks to find solutions for sustainable palm oil, representing some of the largest palm oil producers in the country, have now established a small management team to spearhead the implementation of the pledge, and are actively engaging the Indonesian government on regulatory reforms to support and institutionalize sustainable practices in the palm oil industry.

 
 

These two partnership examples show a true commitment to reducing deforestation. Many more are needed.

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