©FAO/Sean Gallagher

The state of the world's forests 2022

Chapter 1 Can forests and trees provide means for recovery and inclusive, resilient and sustainable economies?

  • Humanity is facing multiple global threats. These include a health pandemic and related economic hardships, food insecurity, poverty, climate change, conflicts, land and water degradation, and biodiversity loss.
  • The world needs solutions at scale that are cost-effective and equitable and can be implemented rapidly, and forests and trees have clear potential. Societies could make better use of forests and trees to simultaneously conserve biodiversity, better provide for human well-being, and generate income, particularly for rural people.
  • Three forest-based pathways warrant close examination as means for tackling local to global challenges. These are (1) halting deforestation and maintaining forests; (2) restoring degraded lands and expanding agroforestry; and (3) sustainably using forests and building green value chains.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis accompanied by an economic crisis threatening the lives, livelihoods, well-being and future of people worldwide. Its effects on jobs and incomes and consequences for health, hunger and poverty are of a severity and scale unseen for more than half a century. The pandemic poses formidable challenges for policymakers in governments and decision-makers in businesses who are required to mitigate impacts and keep societies, economies, communities and businesses afloat, including through fiscal stimuli to maintain jobs and income without destroying long-term economic and social stability and sustainability. At the same time, world leaders and societies are being challenged to find effective, cost-efficient and socially acceptable ways to address the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. Moreover, the global population is projected to increase from 7.7 billion people in 2019 to 9.7 billion people in 2050, and the annual global consumption of natural resources such as biomass, fossil fuels, metals and minerals could more than double by 2060 – raising the prospect of further environmental damage caused by increased production, consumption and waste generation.

The confluence of planetary-scale crises poses a serious threat. It has sharply raised awareness of critical weaknesses and risks in societal and economic systems, including humanity’s relationship with and impacts on nature. Forests have been hard-hit in recent decades by clearance and unsustainable practices, but they have also always been an important resource for human well-being and wealth creation. The world needs solutions at scale that are cost-effective, inclusive and equitable and can be implemented rapidly. The economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to respond in ways that support people and their livelihoods bring into stark focus the importance of balancing natural resource protection and use. Forestry – which yields a vast range of products and ecosystem services useful both for local communities and at a global scale – could play a key role in accelerating a transformation towards societies that simultaneously conserve nature, better provide for human well-being, and generate income, particularly for rural people. This is particularly pertinent at a time when government deficits are rising and economies, communities and families are struggling.

It is 50 years since the first global conference on the (human) environment in 1972 and 30 years since a common global perspective was set at the UN Conference on Environment and Development. It is also nearly seven years since the UN General Assembly agreed on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Over this period, it has become increasingly clear that forests and trees have crucial roles to play in sustainable development, achieving the SDGs and keeping climate change within manageable boundaries.

This edition of The State of the World’s Forests (SOFO 2022) presents three pathways that, especially if pursued simultaneously, could help address the crises facing the planet while also generating sustainable economic benefits. The pathways are:

  1. halting deforestation and forest degradation as a crucial element for reversing the drivers of climate change, biodiversity loss, land degradation, desertification and threats to human health (“halting deforestation and maintaining forests” – also “halting deforestation”);
  2. restoring degraded forests and landscapes and putting more trees into agricultural settings as cost-effective means for improving natural assets and generating economic, social and environmental benefits (“restoring degraded lands and expanding agroforestry” – also “restoration”); and
  3. increasing sustainable forest use and building green value chains to help meet future demand for materials and ecosystem services and support greener and circular economies, particularly at the local level (“sustainably using forests and building green value chains” – also “sustainable use”).

SOFO 2022 examines ways of integrating these pathways into existing and emerging policy and investment mechanisms, addresses the benefits and costs of the pathways, assesses the potential for additional finance for the pathways, and explores how best to enable adoption, where appropriate, by decision-makers on the ground.

Chapter 2 of SOFO 2022 reviews data on forests and trees as assets that provide societies with multiple benefits. It looks at who owns and manages these assets and how their benefits flow in practice, especially to local people; it also considers the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on forests and forest-dependent people. Chapter 3 scrutinizes the costs and potential benefits of the three mutually reinforcing forest pathways. Chapter 4 explores mechanisms for scaling up investment in the sector to the level needed to fuel this transformation. Chapter 5 examines the status of smallholders, local communities and Indigenous Peoples as forest and tree managers and innovators and the policy changes needed to help them drive transformation in the forest sector, including by supporting social cooperation organizations, women and youth. Chapter 6 outlines some initial next steps that policymakers could take in further exploring the potential of the three pathways.

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