Eleven out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are, in some way, related to forest certification. This was one of the main claims of John Hontelez, Chief Advocacy Officer of FSC, at a meeting to analyse a framework for forest management influenced by the SDGs.
Further exploring the UN mandate, Hontelez pointed out that three of the goals are directly concerned with forest ecosystems. In addition, the more recent Paris Agreement helped put forests “centre stage” through its article 5.2, which is about the need to preserve forests and fight against bad practices in them.
This recent highlighting of the value of forests has been extremely important, according to Hontelez, since “governments and international organizations have traditionally been reluctant to recognize forest certification as a tool to promote sustainable forest management.”
It seems clear that the SDGs have set a framework to drive the actions and development strategies of the different stakeholders in the forestry industry – businesses, NGOs, and governments. But, despite this ideal theoretical framework, is there a real incentive for these actors to foster change in their activities? How are different parts going to bridge the gap between the proposal of sustainable policies and their implementation?
State-wise, Hontelez sees hope in the High Level Political Forum that will take place in 2018 to address, among others, most of the goals that are related to forest certification. The pre-events to the Forum will revolve around 48 countries, of which 21 have FSC-certificated operations or FSC delegations. This will be, in Hontelez’s opinion, a good way of getting FSC into the talks about a sustainable future.
Opportunities for businesses and NGOs
However, forest sustainability is not all about governments. Businesses in the forest industry are an important part of the transition towards a more sustainable future. Here again, the SDGs work fine as a theoretical framework, but what does the reality look like?
As Mathew Reddy, from WBCSD Forest Solutions Group, put it, businesses won’t engage with the SDGs until they are given a business case to work on regarding these goals. The forest industry represents a big chance to obtain revenue through sustainable production activities. More specifically, “most of the business opportunities are where the certification is,” hinting at a role for FSC in creating these ‘hotspots’ in the market.
Lastly, the framework laid out by the SDGs also affects nongovernmental organizations. It is here where Julia Young from WFF highlighted the SDGs as a way to reach people on terms that they might easily understand:
“It is very hard to really transmit what’s the tangible value of certification in terms of impact. I’ve often heard that, for example, the language is too difficult or the message is too long. But now, the SDGs offer a really useful way of getting to a shorthand for communications about why investing in forest certification, for example, or the supply chain, is a good idea because people will understand that we’re linking this to decent jobs, or health, or water – things that are easily understood by the majority of people.”
While governments have a crucial role in implementing responsible policies towards deforestation, forest degradation, decent job creation, etc., Young also calls on companies to engage in the framework of the SDGs, especially since the “costs of not doing so” will only become greater.
The need for a united agenda
Ultimately, the successful ascent towards a sustainable future “is about all of us taking part,” as John Hontelez reminded delegates towards the end of the session.
Responding to the claim that FSC is less present where most needed – for example, in underdeveloped regions, whose big challenges include illegal logging and intensive deforestation and degradation practices – he said that this is where the biggest problems are, where the responses “have to be the biggest”. And to develop adequate responses to these challenges would mean to employ a level of resources that may exceed FSC’s own capacity. Situations like this, according to Hontelez, show the need to build a common agenda that unites governments, businesses, and organizations in advancing towards the Sustainable Development Goals.