DG’s Column

Forests feature in final UN meeting for framing Sustainable Development Goals

The need to demonstrate how fundamentally important forests and forestry are for sustainable development
CIFOR and partners have over the past year promoted a landscape perspective, especially through the Global Landscapes Forum.

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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.

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Topic(s) :   Restoration SDGs