From deforestation in the Amazon to burning forests in Canada and Siberia, forest destruction has hit the news worldwide in recent years. Different global and regional forest policy initiatives have tried to build a positive future for forests. Yet, none has truly reached their goal due to the complexity and multiple economic, social, and environmental issues. For example, the New York Declaration on Forests has failed to halve natural forest loss globally by 2020.
Without examples of good governance initiatives, policymakers face challenges in navigating the path to follow. To find future directions, we turned to a panel of renowned research and policy experts in a so-called Delphi assessment. In a series of interviews, surveys and a workshop, they helped us identify 10 levers to shape a positive future for forests worldwide:
1. Leveraging supportive regulatory frameworks
Currently, the experts perceive that multilateral forest governance processes and institutions are slow to make progress. They also experience an overall “fatigue” to address the existing governance structure. Nevertheless, government and state authorities are important to provide an international and regulatory framework, structures, and a mandate to enable other actors such as companies or NGOs to act.
2. Building new alliances of “coalitions of the willing”
As the world becomes increasingly multipolar, issue-specific coalitions across continents hold big promise to solve forest destruction. These alliances would involve different countries willing to advance certain aspects of global forest governance.
3. Using salient issues as leverage
Initiatives that link forest issues with non-forest sectors and topics high on the political agenda can ignite change. They bring political visibility, commitment, and the possibility to build alliances with critical policy sectors. One example is the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Initiative (FLEGT) which was seen to be the most promising initiative overall.
4. Advancing global forest governance through sustainability leadership by governments
Sustainability leadership of individual governments can lead the way to improve forest governance globally. In particular, the states which implement advanced sustainability standards with a focus on forests and their properties (e.g., biodiversity, climate impacts) have the potential to become the catalysts for change. States that pick this up more quickly might have early mover advantages.
5. Mainstreaming responsible investments
The financial sector plays a key role in tackling deforestation and forest degradation. Yet not enough has been done to support good forest governance, in particular through their investments. Increasing demands from consumers and institutional investors might trigger more sustainable forest investments to support good forest governance.
6. Using hypes and political momentum to achieve long term goals
New initiatives and topics in global forest governance, like zero deforestation and forest landscape restoration, hold the potential to address unsolved challenges. At the same time, technical knowledge and established networks are needed to avoid short-term symbolic policy solutions. Instead of outcompeting, these initiatives should strengthen already existing work.
7. Acknowledging informal markets
A large part of the global forest economy is characterized by informal activities, employment, and related livelihoods, and therefore needs to be more actively considered in global forest governance. This requires taking into account the advantages and disadvantages of formalizing the informal sector in governance strategies.
8. Clarifying and devolving inclusive tenure and use rights
Although there is an increased awareness for the clarification of (forest) land tenure rights, their devolution is still a contested matter between different tiers of government in many countries. Further support from the international donor community will have to find ways of accommodating existing concerns, including state sovereignty.
9. Supporting inclusive “glocal” decision-making
Global forest governance decision-making has largely been exercised by governments without the meaningful participation of local communities, civil society, and private businesses. More “glocal” modes of decision-making with meaningful participation of key stakeholders have the potential to substantially increase the legitimacy of global forest governance efforts.
10. Addressing “big data” to navigate opportunities for transparency and risks
ew technological developments such as remote sensing, big data, and the application of new information technologies also by large numbers of citizens, can greatly increase the transparency of global forest governance initiatives. Yet, these developments also entail risks as private companies and governments can potentially manipulate or misuse big data, increasing the risk of inequity and surveillance.
The bottom line of these levers is a call for more coordination and cooperation between different actors addressing new and old topics such as responsible investments or land tenure to eventually reach change. As a researcher, I believe that transdisciplinary research can help to connect science and policy to learn from each other and to discuss how a positive future for forests can look like. This might be a starting point to embark on a journey towards this better future.
The full study, “Quo vadis global forest governance – the future of global forest governance”, published in the journal Environmental Science and Policy, can be accessed here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1462901121000824