Scaling up forest-based solutions for planetary crises

How trees and forests are best deployed to confront some of the biggest challenges of our time
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Production of latex from rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) in Thailand. Latex is an important non-timber forest product. Photo by Michael Brady/CIFOR-ICRAF

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“The world is facing climate change, deforestation, and biodiversity loss,” said Janne Narakka, the Strategic Planning Committee Chair of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)’s Board of Directors. “Forests are currently high up on many global agendas: there are many different expectations on them – and on the solutions they could provide.”

He made the comments at a keynote session during the FSC’s General Assembly 2021-2022, held on 11 October 2022 in Bali, Indonesia, which set out to explore the central role of forests in the face of these crises and highlight the work required by institutions like FSC to ensure that forest-based solutions are deployed as effectively – and equitably – as possible. “With an estimated strong increase in global timber demand, we have to work to expand FSC’s forest management to bring our impact to new areas,” said Narakka; “but at the same time, it is important to work on new services to respond to the new demands on forests – such as for biodiversity and water purification.”

On that note, Valentina Lira, the sustainability director of Chilean winery Concha y Toro (the second largest winery in the world), shared her company’s approach to implementing FSC’s Ecosystem Services Procedure (ESP), which allows groups to identify, measure, and verify the positive impacts of responsible forest management. “Forestry is not our business; making wine is our business,” she said. “So for us, it was a very challenging idea to work with the FSC standard to certify the forest management that we have in the natural forests surrounding our wineries.”

However, it was increasingly apparent to the company that these forests were providing them with important services, such as regulating the water cycle, preventing erosion, and providing biodiversity that helped with pollination and pest control. So, they signed up to FSC’s ESP, with great results. “It was able to provide us not only with protection of the forest, but also a better relationship with the local community,” said Lira, “and compliance for our commitment to being a [carbon] net-zero company.”

Esther Rohena, the head of climate finance company South Pole’s Global Expansion and Partnerships division, shared some of her organization’s work as a “one stop shop for climate solutions,” which “leverage(s) our finance through the sale of carbon credits and public buyers to projects which are implemented in collaboration with NGOs, local communities, and forest owners.” For Rohena, providing financial assistance for implementers to gain certification is a critical piece of the puzzle.

Stephen Donofrio, the managing director of Ecosystem Marketplace – a standardized Voluntary Carbon Markets (VCM) end-to-end transparency platform – affirmed the growth in popularity of these kinds of projects. “There’s a demand part of this market that is increasingly seeking what is being called ‘high-integrity credits’,” he said. “Many buyers consider nature-based projects to be very valuable in terms of the benefits that they provide beyond carbon, as well as the climate benefits,” said Donofrio, affirming that buyrs are frequently willing to pay more for these. He also highlighted the importance of ensuring that Indigenous Peoples are “at the table for fair and equitable revenue-sharing from market-based approaches, and are also respected in terms of their support of biodiversity and the other [non-carbon] benefits that they provide.”

While the importance of forest restoration is extremely apparent at multiple levels, Michael Brady, a Principal Scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research – World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), warned this is not simply about getting trees in the ground. “We coined the phrase ‘planting the wrong tree in the wrong place – and many are left untended’ to express our concern about the overreliance on tree planting, as opposed to tree managing,” he said.

As such, CIFOR-ICRAF has been working since the 1990s to promote a strategic forest landscape restoration approach, boosting governance, supporting communities, promoting natural regional regeneration as a restoration strategy, and exploring new opportunities for restoration, such as in conjunction with biomass production for energy and livelihoods, and as part of efforts to reduce fire and haze.

Lee White, Gabon’s Minister of Water, Forests, the Sea, and Environment, provided a compelling example of the need to safeguard against illegal deforestation as a starting-point for offering any kind of effective forest-based solutions. Following the revelation in 2017 of a USD300 million-per-year illegal forestry industry in the country, “we had to take drastic action,” said White.

The President declared that all forestry operations in Gabon needed to be FSC-certified by 2022. “We felt that we needed to bring in an international watchdog to validate management practices in order for Gabon to maintain its market share in the future,” he said.

The government is also working on a traceability system that will ensure that QR codes “follow living trees in the forest all the way to destinations outside of Gabon,” said White. It is also modernizing its system to be able to prove that Gabonese timber is legal, carbon positive, biodiversity positive, and socially responsible.

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