Forests: biodiversity, climate and development


Forests represent the ecosystem which is both the main source of biological diversity and has the greatest carbon absorption capacity. Forests are at the heart of nature-based solutions and are considered to be a means of both combatting climate change and the loss of biodiversity. It is estimated that 1.6 billion people around the world depend directly or indirectly on forests to survive. The COVID-19 health crisis has also demonstrated the strong links between the health of our ecosystems and that of our populations.

To this end, forests around the world, and more particularly tropical forests, are at the crossroads of major global challenges which are the preservation of biodiversity, the fight against climate change and human development.

The world’s forest
The FAO [1] issued its most recent Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) in 2020. This report, published every five years, describes the overall state of the world’s forests. It notes that the world has total forest cover of 4.06 billion hectares, or 31% of its land surface. Tropical forest accounts for the largest share, at 45%. Over half (54 %) of the world’s forests are located in just five countries: Russia, Brazil, Canada, the United States and China.

Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate

Despite recognition that forests are vital for the planet and its population, deforestation and forest degradation are continuing at an alarming rate.

A total of 100 million hectares of forests are believed to have disappeared in the past two decades (FAO, 2020), particularly affecting primary and tropical forests. In 2019, the equivalent of a football stadium full of tropical forests was destroyed every two seconds. NGOs and scientists have reported that this trend is still continuing and have warned that the point of no return for forest ecosystems is fast approaching.

There are several causes for this deforestation in tropical countries, first and foremost: the conversion of forest land into agricultural holdings in order to meet demand from consumer countries for agricultural raw materials (palm oil, soya, cocoa, etc.). Pressure on these resources from other economic activities such as mining or logging are also factors. Deforestation and the degradation of forest ecosystems are responsible for 11 % of global greenhouse gas emissions. Africa suffered the highest net loss of forest cover between 2010 and 2020.

The forest fires which devastated several countries in 2019 and 2020 also highlighted the extreme vulnerability of forests to the consequences of climate change. Over 100 million hectares of forest are subject to a variety of stresses linked to climate change, including megafires, but also pests, diseases, invasive species, droughts and extreme climate events. These threats are set to quickly increase in the years ahead with the increase in temperatures and the worsening of climate change. They require an urgent, coordinated response to protect and resiliently manage these ecosystems.

In the current context of global challenges and threats to these ecosystems (deforestation, degradation, fires, etc.), France is fully committed within Europe and internationally to protecting the biodiversity of forests, the fight against deforestation and the sustainable management of these ecosystems. To achieve this, it is advocating better coordination between international forestry-related forums and instruments, while maintaining a high level of political commitment.

Quels sont les instruments internationaux pour protéger les forêts ?

Abordée de manière fragmentée, notamment par les trois conventions de Rio (climat, biodiversité et désertification) et des partenariats divers régionaux et sous-régionaux, la protection des forêts ne dispose pas d’un cadre global d’intervention.

La protection des forêts au sein des grandes conventions internationales

The conventions known as the Rio Conventions call for the forests to be protected, but do not agree on how to do so: they are referred to in the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), through the Expanded Programme of Work on Forest Biodiversity in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and from the viewpoint of land degradation in the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and would benefit from greater coherence among the major conventions dealing with them.

At COP26, the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use was, however, endorsed by 141 Signatory States (including France), which are committed to halting the loss of forest cover by 2030.

Other conventions address forests indirectly. The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, known as the Ramsar Convention, deals with forested peatlands and tropical mangrove forests. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) deals with certain species of precious wood which are subject to strict international trading standards (controls on origin during export in order to prevent or limit the export of these threatened species).

A number of international treaties contain proposals on forests but there is no global legal agreement governing activities linked to forests.

Protecting forests through several non-binding processes

The United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF)

Given this lack of regulation, in 2000 an International Arrangement on Forests (IAF) was set up under the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (ECOSOC).

It has two components:

• The United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF), for government dialogue,

• The Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), which unites and coordinates 14 organizations dealing with forestry issues.

The first UN Strategic Plan for Forests (2017-2030), in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2017.

Within this political and technical forum, France promotes sustainable forest management and the achievement of the six Global Forest Goals.

In 2021, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) published a progress report on the achievement of these Global Forest Goals, in conjunction with that of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

The REDD+ mechanism

Negotiations on REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) under the UNFCCC set out that developed countries should pay developing countries for the greenhouse gas emission reduction policies linked to the reduction of deforestation, the fight against forest degradation and the increase in forest carbon stocks. A key overall issue is the mobilization and coordination of “forest” financing by the international community.

The Bonn Challenge

Launched in 2011, the Bonn Challenge is a global effort to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020, and 350 million by 2030. With the same goal, in 2021 the United Nations General Assembly launched the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030).

The New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF)

This declaration was launched at the UNSG Climate Summit in September 2014. Its aim was to gain recognition for the role of forests in the international political agenda by bringing together actions aimed at protecting, restoring and managing them in the long term. The scope of these actions covers restoration, financing and eliminating deforestation from supply chains. With over 190 signatories, one of the Declaration’s main targets is to halve deforestation by 2020 and end it completely by 2030.

The Amsterdam Declarations

The Amsterdam Declarations were launched in late 2015 during the Dutch Presidency of the European Union and signed by seven European States, including France, which held the presidency of the declarations in 2018, and they promote eliminating deforestation from supply chains in signatory countries, by supporting the work of the private sector towards a target of deforestation-free products, particularly with regard to palm oil.

The Amsterdam Declarations Partnership, of which France is a member, along with Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Denmark, is working to achieve this goal.

At COP26, the goal to halt deforestation in agricultural supply chains was reflected in the FACT (Forest, Agriculture, and Commodity Trade) statement. France endorsed this statement along with 27 other forest and non-forest countries.

What does France do within this framework?

With its overseas territories (particularly French Guiana), France is the only European country which manages tropical forests and plays a major role in European and international forestry debates. For many years, it has supported the promotion and protection of forest biodiversity and the fight against deforestation, illegal logging and related industries. Furthermore, forests are at the heart of nature-based solutions and are considered to be a means of both combatting climate change and the loss of biodiversity.

Promoting the sustainable management of forests, serving their biodiversity

The sustainable management of forest ecosystems reconciles the various types of forest resources:

• Environmental functions, including carbon storage,
• Maintaining biodiversity,
• Protecting soils,
• Regulating the water cycle,
• Essential socio-economic and cultural functions for the populations.

This sustainable management also includes restoration and even reforestation activities for degraded ecosystems.

Considering the main challenges facing forests, France’s main goals are now:

1. Preserving forest biodiversity by managing protected areas, combatting illegal logging and related industries, combatting fires, responding to extreme events, etc.

2. Developing sustainable value chains in territories and deforestation-free practices: encouraging access to the market for products stemming from the rational use of natural resources, agroforestry, the promotion of territorial certification or deforestation-free agricultural practices;

3. Formulating, with all relevant stakeholders (including local communities, NGOs, etc.) sustainable and concerted management practices for land and forests (sustainable panning of land and infrastructures) and long-term, low-carbon-intensity strategies);

4. Promoting traditional knowledge and practices;

5. Cross-border cooperation among protected areas to fight international trafficking and environmental crime.

These main objectives are set out under the Tropical Forest Alliance, which was launched in 2019 on the initiative of France alongside the 74th UN General Assembly. This initiative concerns the three main tropical basins and seeks to bring together all tropical forest stakeholders. Following several months of negotiations in 2020, leading to approval of the foundation charter of the Alliance for the Conservation of Rainforests in July 2020, this initiative is now built around a core group of member countries, of which Gabon and Colombia are among the longest-standing, while DRC and Panama joined the Alliance in 2021.

> Read more about the Alliance for the Conservation of Rainforests on the One Planet Summit website
Download the charter of the Alliance for the Conservation of Rainforests - (PDF, 348.4 KB)

A strong commitment to forests in Central Africa

France is particularly committed to forests in Africa, especially in the Congo Basin. France supports the convergence of forestry policies of countries in the Congo Basin region through the Central Africa Forests Commission (COMIFAC), and the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) which coordinates the work of donors, NGOs, companies and research centres in support of COMIFAC.

Since 2015, France has also supported the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) and provided it with €12 million in financing until 2021. CAFI is a multi-donor initiative bringing together Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the European Union.
It covers six central African countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. It has a pledged fund of $737 million until 2025. The initiative targets all causes of deforestation and supports the necessary political reforms in each of these sectors: agriculture, forestry, mining and infrastructure, governance, land, demographics and energy. It meets a dual objective of (i) Reducing deforestation and (ii) Improving people’s living conditions through a sustainable rural development approach with a reduced impact on forests.

Since the beginning of the initiative, three countries (DRC, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo) have signed letters of intent with CAFI. The initiative’s challenge is to strengthen the implementation of these letters of intent, as well as the use of new partnerships and its multilateralism in the years ahead.

Working at EU level with the FLEGT Action Plan and the regulation against deforestation

FLEGT stands for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade. The EU FLEGT Action Plan aims to tackle illegal logging in the world’s forests by promoting accountability among societies and European consumers. It proposes a range of measures as regards:

• producer countries within the framework of Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs),
• the European market, with the key measure being the EU’s “Timber Regulation” (EUTR) adopted in October 2010. This regulation prohibits the placing of illegally harvested timber on the EU market and requires traders to exercise due diligence regarding the origin of timber.

In November 2021, under its European Green Deal, the European Commission published a draft regulation aimed at minimizing the EU’s impact on deforestation and forest degradation around the world by supporting the consumption of products from deforestation-free supply chains in the EU.

This draft regulation sets mandatory rules for operators which place six specific commodities on the EU market that are associated with deforestation and forest degradation: soy, beef, palm oil, wood, cocoa and coffee, and their derived products. Its purpose is to ensure that only deforestation-free products, complying with the laws of the country of origin and subject to a declaration of due diligence, are allowed on the EU market.

At national level, France’s strategy against imported deforestation (SNDI)

On 14 November 2018, France published its national strategy against imported deforestation (SNDI). This strategy is structured across five major aspects and 17 goals and aims to end the import of non-sustainable forestry or agricultural products which contribute to deforestation.
The SNDI is firstly aimed at agricultural imports which seem to most contribute to deforestation and are mentioned in the Amsterdam Declarations (soy, palm oil, beef and beef co-products, cocoa, rubber), as well as timber and its derivatives.

In this context, enhanced dialogue and cooperation with producer and consumer countries is carried out thanks to the increase in official development assistance for financing the programmes for adaptation to climate change and biodiversity. Since 2018, the AFD has allocated €60 million per year to projects fostering sustainable management, the fight against deforestation, restoration of forest ecosystems and reforestation.

Leading stakeholders

Updated: March 2022