Forests are having a bit of a moment right now.  Hot on the heels of their inclusion in the Paris climate agreement, U.S Secretary of State John Kerry giving a keynote speech at the Oslo REDD Exchange and 800,000 citizens of Utter Pradesh setting a new world record for planting nearly 50 million trees in one day, forests are high on the agenda for those attending Climate Week in New York City. 

There’s a number of reasons for this.  Neither the Paris climate agreement nor the Sustainable Development Goals will be delivered unless we pay attention to forests.  Forests are unique in the sense that they can be both a problem and a solution when it comes to climate and development.  Growing populations, increased urbanization and other factors are putting pressure on forests and at the same time focusing the attention of policy-makers, a number of whom will be in New York this week. 

The CIF has been focusing on forests since our inception.  Our $775 million Forest Investment Program (FIP) portfolio is going through a number of changes at present.  The initial eight FIP pilot countries all have endorsed investment plans and 15 new FIP countries are at the earliest stages of investment plan development. This means the FIP is now much larger - a broader family of countries with every continent represented.  So we’re comprised of an even more informed group of actors with diverse constituencies and experiences from which others can draw, share and learn. 

In Ghana, the FIP is supporting efforts to reduce deforestation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while conserving biodiversity within the country’s High Forest Zone

With that in mind, here’s a few thoughts on what we’re seeing and the lessons we’re learning:

If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together

When it comes to tackling climate change, the need for speed is real.  In developed countries, rising seas and more frequent extreme weather events present major and diverse risks.  And in developing countries, unchecked climate change threatens to push 100 million extra people into poverty.  Everybody recognizes the need for urgent action.

But forests are complex and consultation and coordination are crucial.   Forests are unique because they’re a resource that has multiple uses, multiple users and multiple benefits, services and products – all at the same time.  So it’s crucial that you get the right people around the table and the right issues on the table.  For example, in Burkina Faso, we work with multiple stakeholders to make sure our project is properly grounded and well-tended so its roots can flourish.  We aim for this across our whole program and it seems to be working – at our recent Pilot Country Meeting, there were many examples of progress from across the FIP family.    

Technology is part of the solution, not the silver bullet

Whether it’s improved satellite imaging, digital crowdsourcing or more advanced machinery, technology has played a big part in improved forest management.  But while technology can be an accelerator of sustainable forest management, it is not a shortcut to it.  The fundamentals remain foundational to success.  This means thinking about governance and institutions.  This means empowering forest-dependent communities to participate in the planning and use of forest resources.  And this means acknowledging the challenges inherent in a sector where no single actor has all the answers. 

Done correctly, forestry can provide gains which are long-term and benefits which can be renewed and replenished.  Technology can certainly help deliver this but only in conjunction with tried and tested principles of forest management.

Done correctly, forestry can provide gains which are long-term and benefits which can be renewed and replenished

There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

Oscar Wilde may be an unusual point of reference when it comes to forestry but his famous saying very much applies to the sector in 2016.  The Lima-Paris Action Agenda helped galvanize the actions of non-state actors, the private sector is paying increased attention to how they source their commodities and more than 90 countries included forests in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs.) 

There’s a well-worn line amongst forestry folk that the best time to plant a tree is 40 years ago but the second best time to plant a tree is right now.  And many in the sector have long muttered about a lack of attention to the climate and development benefits of forests.  But while the best time for leaders to focus on forests was 40 years ago, the second best time is right now.  And right now the FIP community is becoming the living laboratory it was always intended to be.  We’re working with FIP partners to help harness the potential of forests and sharing the lessons we learn along the way with the wider landscapes community. 

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