A new study has found that despite some progress in reducing tropical deforestation rates, the effectiveness of international forest governance in curbing deforestation remains limited and hard to measure.

The report highlights a growing concern over the escalating crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and widening social and economic disparities, underscoring the need for more concerted efforts to address these pressing issues.

The report provides valuable insights for policymakers to develop and implement equitable and effective forest policies.

It also notes that the mounting pressure to address the climate crisis has led to a surge in ambitious targets, such as zero deforestation and net biodiversity gain. However, relying solely on deforestation rates to measure forest governance success oversimplifies the complex relationships between humans and nature.

Produced by the Science-Policy Programme (SciPol) of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), the report titled International Forest Governance: A critical review of trends, drawbacks, and new approaches, synthesises the most pivotal developments in international forest governance since 2010. The findings provide actionable insights for land use and climate policymakers to spur the implementation of just and effective forest policies.

Launched at the 19th Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF19), the report - the first global synthesis on international forest governance in 14 years - also highlights the growing trend of 'climatization' of forests, where forests are primarily valued for their carbon sequestration capabilities, potentially undermining their ecological and social significance.

According to the Deputy Coordinator of IUFRO SciPol, Dr. Nelson Grima, the landscape of international forest governance has become increasingly complex and crowded, with a multitude of new stakeholders and tools emerging, making it more challenging to navigate and coordinate effective forest management and policy implementation.

"The challenge now is to strengthen and coordinate forest policy to address power asymmetries between the different actors," he said.

The report looks at how the growing urgency of the climate crisis has led to the commodification of forests, prioritizing their carbon sequestration potential over other values. This has resulted in the emergence of new carbon and biodiversity markets, which often prioritize short-term economic benefits over long-term sustainability and social justice, potentially exacerbating environmental and social issues.

"Finance that includes philanthropic and community-led mechanisms offer a just alternative, but so far, have played a limited role," it indicated.

According to one of the lead author of the report from the University of Oxford, Prof. Constance McDermott, market-driven approaches to forest governance, such as carbon trading and zero-deforestation supply chains, are gaining popularity as a solution for forest management and finance. However, the report reveals that these approaches can actually exacerbate existing inequalities and have unintended negative consequences on sustainable forest management, highlighting the need for a more nuanced and equitable approach.

"Non-market-based mechanisms such as state regulation and community-led initiatives offer important alternative pathways for just forest governance," Prof McDermott stated.

Another author from the University of Helsinki, Prof. Franklin Obeng-Odoom, emphasized that, regardless of the source of funding, the core objective must be to promote social inclusion, address environmental injustices, safeguard the land rights of communities reliant on natural resources, and support the transition to a more equitable and sustainable future.

Meanwhile, the main author of the report from Freiburg University, Prof. Daniela Kleinschmit, stressed that simplistic and overly ambitious pledges are no longer sufficient, and that it's crucial to move beyond naive 'win-win' narratives to consider the complex social dependencies and impacts that shape our understanding of forests and their management.

"Measuring governance has mainly been related to the deforestation rate as the main indicator. However, forests provide many goods and services essential for people, which is why the effectiveness of international forest governance should also be measured against these needs," he said.

To address the complexities of international forest governance, the report urges policymakers to adopt a more holistic approach, recognizing the intrinsic value of forests beyond their carbon sequestration potential.

It recommends prioritizing sustainable, long-term investments that benefit local communities and support their livelihoods, rather than solely focusing on short-term economic gains. This approach will help ensure a just and sustainable future for the communities that rely on forests for their well-being.

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