Forests are under threat, largely because their value is underestimated, not understood, or simply disregarded. Between 2000 and 2010, about 13 million of hectares of natural forests were converted to other uses every year. Through planting of trees and natural regeneration, the net loss of forest area was reduced to about 5.6 million hectares of forest cover each year—roughly the size of Costa Rica. Together, deforestation and forest degradation account for roughly 2.9 billion tons of CO2 emissions each year or about 12 % of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The world is recognizing that forests help maintain long-term conditions for socioeconomic growth and lift people out of poverty. Recent and unprecedented international processes and partnerships have engaged public and private actors in reducing deforestation, restoring degraded land, and increasing forest cover. The Bonn Challenge, launched in 2011, proposes to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded lands by 2020. In 2014, the New York Declaration on Forests issued a widely- backed call to cut natural forest loss in half by 2020 and end it by 2030.
Forests feature prominently in the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 15 refers to the protection, restoration and sustainable management of forests. Forests are highly relevant to many other goals, including Goal 13 on climate change. The Paris Agreement adopted at COP-21 recognizes forests as critical to combatting climate change. In their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), more than 80 countries committed to limiting forest loss and increasing forest cover- through afforestation, reforestation or tree planting on farmlands.
Deforestation is largely driven by the demand for new agricultural land. Transportation, energy infrastructure, mining and wood-based energy also negatively impact forest cover. Pressures on forests are likely to continue as increasing demand for food, fiber, energy, minerals and transport drives large-scale land use changes at the expense of forest and tree cover. A landscape approach is one solution for managing trade-offs between forests and other sectors such as agriculture, energy and mining.
The World Bank Group recognizes that forests are important for sustainable and inclusive development and supports long-term development that doesn’t come at the expense of forests and the services they deliver. The Bank Group assists countries in understanding the true value of forests. The Bank also helps countries implement forest-smart operations that manage land-use, balance trade-offs to minimize negative impacts on forests, and encourage pro-forest investments.
The Bank provides analytical tools that articulate the true value and benefits of standing forests and their biodiversity, so as to better inform decision-making. For example, the Wealth Account and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES) partnership helps countries implement natural capital accounting systems to assess forest capital and its economic contribution through the production of goods (timber and non-timber) and ecosystem services.
The Bank supports forest-smart development in countries through an integrated landscape approach. This approach helps clarify and manage trade-offs between various land uses, including forests, to ensure that land is used productively and sustainably, without compromising resilience. Forest-smart interventions avoid or minimize adverse impacts on forests and their biodiversity and seek “win-win” solutions that fully integrate forests in the design of interventions.
This is complemented, at the project-level, by the application of the World Bank Safeguards and IFC Performance Standards that ensure that all projects are reviewed early to identify potential adverse impacts on forests, so that they can be avoided or minimized, mitigated, and offset wherever possible.
Natural capital accounting is documenting the economic and social value of forests systems and trees, such as mangroves. Strategic Environmental and Social Assessments, and other modeling tools are used to help predict impacts on forests and identify alternatives to lessen negative impacts.
In the Congo Basin, analytical work is underway to inform decisions on balancing mining development and forest conservation. This information is helping the Republic of Congo develop a strategy for the sustainable development of the TRIDOM region, an area in the heart of the Congo Basin rich in mineral ore deposits and biodiversity.
The Bank has a growing portfolio on integrated landscape management and is currently supporting such programs in about 20 countries that foster low carbon rural development. In Colombia, the Bank is promoting of silvopastoralism through Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) and technical assistance. In Brazil, a national program on low-carbon agriculture is helping to reduce pressures on natural forests in the Cerrado region. In Ghana, work to green the cocoa value chain is improving forest and tree management practices. In Tunisia, a forest and rangeland ecosystem project guided by a national silvo-pastoral strategy is improving forest management practices.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a component of the Pro-Route project was dedicated to participatory land use planning and sustainable livelihood development to reduce the rehabilitated road’s negative impacts on natural forests. Activities included participatory mapping of existing forest use, support for income-generating activities, and agricultural intensification. Also in the DRC, tools and standards for extractive industries on REDD+ and forest conservation are being developed to reduce GHG emissions from deforestation and forest degradation during exploration, exploitation, and rehabilitation activities.