The High Level Political Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals (HLPF 2018) will be held at the United Nations from 9-18 July 2018 where UN Member States will undertake an in-depth review of SDGs 6, 7, 11, 12, and 15 within the theme of "Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies." The event will include voluntary national reviews by 47 countries on their progress in the implementation of SDGs and result in a joint ministerial declaration.

A key message from UN member states and international platforms feeding into the HLPF is that:

  • Forest landscape restoration (FLR) helps regain ecological functions and increases livelihood opportunities across deforested and degraded landscapes, and is a key nature-based solution for achieving SDG 15 – particularly where this is aligned with integrated land and water management and diversified agricultural systems.
  • Furthermore, UN Member States have begun to express Voluntary National Contributions (VNCs) to the UN Strategic Plan on Forests and several of these include FLR, which provides an added impetus and vehicle for SDG 15 implementation.

Forests are intrinsic to the SDGs (especially SDG 15)

Goal 15 is a call to: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

Although there are encouraging signs in relation to SDG 15, such as the rate of forest loss being reduced by 25% since the beginning of the century, soil productivity has been consistently declining over a comparable period – which affects croplands, grasslands, rangelands and forests, and therefore impairs livelihoods and resilience capacity. We must also bear in mind that the reduction of forest loss rates does not translate directly to no loss of forest. Although the net rate of forest loss has been reduced due to tree plantations and restoration, existing natural and primary forests continued to decline. In fact, just last year the world lost almost 16 million hectares of tropical forests – about equivalent to the size of Bangladesh.

The SDG 2018 report stresses the importance of forests for the supply of many of the key resources for societal development and biodiversity, pointing to the necessity of accelerating implementation of sustainable forest and land management practices across the globe.

SDG 15 and forest landscape restoration

IUCN has focused its forest-related contributions to the SDG process on holistic and integrated approaches to achieving SDG 15, in particular via forest landscape restoration (FLR) as a key nature-based solution. IUCN has provided information on progress and challenges under this goal, highlighting the most important interdependencies between SDG 15 and other SDGs, as well as highlighting possible trade-offs when addressing a multiplicity of SDGs.

A critical mechanism for achieving FLR at scale is the Bonn Challenge, a global goal to bring 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested landscapes into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030. The Bonn Challenge was launched by the Government of Germany and IUCN in 2011 and to date, has catalyzed over 50 governments and other entities to make ambitious restoration pledges of more than 160 million hectares..

Countries are aware that by restoring degraded landscapes as a part of a comprehensive strategy, they will be able to transform the status quo towards sustainably productive landscapes to the benefit of communities and biodiversity.

In the run up to HLPF 2018

Various meetings and fora were held in preparation of HLPF 2018 and multiple inputs with a view to identifying forest-based solutions that will help accelerate achievement of the interlinked SDGs under review at the HLPF 2018, and contribute towards the transformation to sustainable and resilient societies.

1. Expert Group Meeting

The Expert Group Meeting on SDG 15 was convened by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs as a platform for more than 60 experts to address such topics as forests, biodiversity, mountains, land and soils, wildlife poaching and trafficking, the role of communities as custodians of terrestrial ecosystems, and means of implementation.

The Expert Group Meeting concluded that:

  • A holistic approach is necessary for the implementation of SDG 15, where the costs and risks of inaction are properly accounted for, the responsibility towards mitigating impacts generated by business-as-usual activities is internalised, and perverse incentives are reformed.
  • Watershed and landscape approaches are suitable to achieve SDG 15.
  • Partnership building, capacity building, intersectoral coordination and targeted financing are needed for accelerated progress.

2. The United Nation Forum on Forests, 13th session (UNFF13)

UNFF13 took place in May 2018 and focused on policy dialogue, priority actions and resource needs for the period 2017–2018. Key messages from the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF)-led international conference on “Working across sectors to halt deforestation and increase forest area: from aspiration to action”, held in Rome in February 2018 were presented and senior officials identified a set of forest-based policy recommendations to the HLPF 2018 on ways to accelerate progress in achieving SDGs 6, 7, 11, 12, 15, and 17 under the guidance and mandate of the United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests 2017–2030. This strategic plan, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2017, sets out Six Global Forest Goals and 26 associated targets to be reached by 2030. These targets build on the 2030 SDGs agenda.

UNFF13 concluded that:

  • Forest-based solutions are designed in relation to the importance of forests to water availability, energy security and urban settlements, sustainable production and consumption, among other challenges.
  • Integrated forest and landscape restoration is a best practice to regain ecological functions and livelihood opportunities across deforested and degraded landscapes.
  • FLR can best contribute where consistent and combined with integrated landscape management, water management frameworks, and diversified agricultural systems.

During UNFF13, IUCN and its partners launched the CPF Joint Initiative on Forest Landscape Restoration, which will be implemented with Global Environment Facility funding and contributions from many CPF members. The Joint Initiative’s objective is to enhance synergies between CPF members and the international commitments related to forests, including the SDGs, to better provide support to countries and stakeholders to scale up and strengthen implementation of FLR.

3. Voluntary National Contributions to the UN Strategic Plan for Forests

Most importantly, the commitments and progress being made by UN Member States will provide the substance for the HLPF deliberations. A good illustration of this is the forest-related Voluntary National Contributions (VNCs) announced by UN Member States during UNFF13.

Countries have set an ambition to increase global forest area by 3% worldwide by 2030 through sustainable forest management which includes protection, restoration, afforestation and preventing forest degradation.  Implementation of the UN Strategic Plan for Forests is an effective means to accelerate progress in achieving the SDGs and Rio Conventions.

VNCs were submitted by 19 countries during UNFF13. These VNCs show convergent actions through different policies, programmes, and measures aimed at combating deforestation and reversing deforestation and forest degradation.

Some highlights of these VNCs are:

  • Ecuador has updated its National Forestry Management Plan, which will steer actions to achieve the country’s zero-net deforestation goal by 2030 at the national level, in direct contribution to UN Strategic Plan for Forests Target 1.3 by promoting sustainable management of all types of forests, halting deforestation, restoring degraded land and increasing afforestation and reforestation.
  • Ghana’s VNC includes plans of restoring 100,000 hectares of degraded forest between 2017-2020, linking with their efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation committed in their climate change Nationally Determined Contribution, which represents contributions to UN Strategic Plan for Forests Targets 1.2 and 1.3.
  • Guatemala is operationalising implementation of its Bonn Challenge pledge of restoring 1.2 million hectaresthrough its National Strategy for Restoration of Forest Landscapes backed by approximately US$ 5 billion of its own finance during a period of 30 years. US$ 1.5 billion will be used to reinforce government incentives such as PROBOSQUE.
  • Liberia’s VNC also positions their Bonn Challenge pledge of 0.75 million hectares as the foundation for their contribution to Global Forest Goal 1, through the reforestation of areas of ecosystem significance such as the Sahel, as well as through measures to enhance carbon stocks through community forestry, and smart agriculture practices, among others.

Concluding thoughts before the HLPF 2018

The SDGs represent some of the greatest global aspirations for the world’s people and their environment, but there is room for improvement in how to achieve these as science progresses and our understanding of people, environment and policy continues to evolve. IUCN and partners have invested considerable time and effort into the strategies behind SDG 15 leading up to the HLPF, with the aspiration that the review will reflect the evolving integration of forest landscape, biodiversity and livelihoods components of the SDGs. We support implementation of strategies under the landscape approach that seeks to address the often-competing interests of different stakeholders across a landscape to engage in multi-sectoral, collaborative land management – without which achievement of the SDGs will not be possible.