Global forest plan could boost fight against poverty and climate change

Hundreds of experts call for new kind of forest partnership.

News, 09 July 2008

An emerging initiative could pave the way for fundamental change in the way forests are managed, boosting efforts to fight both poverty and climate change, says research published today by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

The World Bank-nurtured idea is of a global forest partnership that links local and global processes and promotes decision-making on the international stage that reflects the view and needs of local stakeholders such as forest dwellers.

But the study's authors warn that the World Bank will have to heed the advice of hundreds of experts they consulted if it is to make a real breakthrough in tackling the problems of past decades and the weaknesses of typical international forest programmes.

IIED consulted widely on the bank's idea. More than 600 forest experts responded to IIED’s survey or participated in focus groups in Brazil, China, Ghana, Guyana, India, Russia and Mozambique, as well as at international meetings.

A majority agreed a new partnership was needed to protect forests and forest-based livelihoods, but pointed out ways it should diverge from the bank’s initial idea if it is to really serve local needs on an equitable basis with the rapidly changing global forestry agenda. IIED also reviewed more than 50 existing initiatives to identify the proposed alliance’s potential partners and the gaps it could fill.

The consultation identified key features that would make a global partnership a unique and truly progressive way for international forestry to work. It should focus on empowering primary stakeholders such as forest dwellers so that their rights, knowledge and needs are centre-stage.

It should greatly improve flows of finance to activities that support local needs alongside global public goods such as carbon storage. And it should interact effectively with other sectors such as water and agriculture, where the underlying causes of forest problems – and the seeds of sustainable solutions – are often lodged.

"Without these building blocks, the ambitious partnership idea is unlikely to succeed," says IIED's Steve Bass, the report's co-author. "This is a new opportunity to develop an empowering, stakeholder-focused partnership that can attract real investment to manage forests sustainably."

"It has potential to harness an enormous groundswell of energy to manage forests so they can help address local poverty and global climate change," adds Bass. "Right now, Western governments are planning large climate and forest funds – the partnership could identify the best ways to invest those funds for long-term good."

Existing efforts to make forestry work for the poor have not generated the results expected. The desire to create a new global forest partnership that connects local and global processes and people is an ambitious break from tradition that could create new ways to do business in the forest sector.

"The World Bank should be praised for breaking with normal practice and supporting the independent scrutiny of its plans through engagement with a broad range of stakeholders," says co-author James Mayers, head of IIED’s Natural Resources Group.

"What the bank must now avoid is trying to drive the partnership from the top-down. Instead it must act as the facilitator, providing financial and other support in a hands-off way to enable an independent alliance to be built from the bottom up, bringing together local and regional partners with global organisations."

The report urges the formation of a 'development group' of forest, environment and development leaders, mainly from the South and credible to government, civil society and the private sector, who can come together and contribute to the development of the initiative. They would be supported by a small group of progressive international institutions in their efforts to forge a new kind of local-global partnership.

Daniela Gomes Pinto and Mario Monzoni of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, who helped to coordinate the extensive consultation process in Brazil say: "The Brazilians we consulted said a global forest partnership is needed to raise the overall profile of forests, to curb the drivers of deforestation, and to support those who wish to practice sustainable forest management. It must be globally-designed, but country-driven – a partnership for the world, not the World Bank."

Welcoming the report, the World Bank's Forest Advisor, Gerhard Dieterle says: "The World Bank is happy to hear there is consensus on a new approach from a broad variety of forest stakeholders from around the world."

"We have listened to the advice of the hundreds of people consulted and will be following IIED's recommendation that the World Bank support an independent process of a global partnership growing from the 'bottom up'," he says. "We are convinced that this is a lasting way to have forests contribute to economic growth, to the livelihoods of forest-dependent people and poverty reduction as a whole, as well as preserving the global services forests deliver."

The report components can be dowloaded here in pdf format:

* Full report including annexes
* Executive summary as a stand alone document
* French, Spanish, Portuguese versions of Executive Summary