The global state of forests continues to be a source of concern. Forests cover 31 percent of the world's land surface, just over four billion hectares. Ongoing deforestation is leading to a drastic decline in biodiversity in the world's forests (around 70 percent of all species worldwide live in what are known as mega-diverse countries in the tropics and subtropics, and primarily in species-rich tropical forests). The destruction of natural forest ecosystems leads to irreversible species loss – wiping part of our genetic hard drive –, dramatic loss of productive soil, lowering of the groundwater level and serious water scarcity (particularly potable water) and last but not least to regional poverty and hunger caused by loss of these building blocks of life. Most deforestation takes place in the tropics and subtropics, but there is also significant forest loss in boreal regions (Russia, Canada). According to FAO's (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) 2010 Global Forest Resources Assessment Report, the annual rate of global forest loss still amounts to around 13 million hectares (an area the size of Nicaragua or Greece).
The capacity of forests to serve as carbon sinks plays a major role in international forest conservation and climate action. Awareness about the value of forests is increasingly influencing the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), particularly via the REDD+ mechanism (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). Inextricably linked to this is the role of tropical forests as global hotspots of biodiversity and their threatened status. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) focusses on this. REDD+ and also some IKI projects (International Climate Initiative) aim to address these aspects in an integrative manner. Global transnational partnerships, especially reforestation partnerships, work with the economy and local population. The importance of this kind of approach is growing. Information on relevant strategies and measures follows below.
Initiatives and processes on forest conservation at European and international level
In 2011, the Bonn Challenge, an internationally recognised global action platform for forest landscape restoration, was launched by the German Environment Ministry and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Its goal is to bring 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020 or at least to have started the required national processes by then. This goal was achieved in May 2017 – well in advance of the planned timeline. The German Environment Ministry deliberately promotes forest restoration and supports the national development of required policies and planning tools and new and creative business models via its International Climate Initiative (IKI).
The German Government supports the New York Declaration on Forests, which was signed by more than 190 governments, companies, civil society and indigenous organisations at the Leader's Climate Summit on 23 September 2014. The declaration's aim is to halve deforestation by 2020 and to end it by 2030. Furthermore, it confirmed the goal of the Bonn Challenge to bring 150 million hectares of the world's forests into restoration by 2020 and a further 200 million hectares by 2030; thus resulting in 350 million hectares of restored forests by 2030.
The main task of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) is the promotion of sustainable forest management around the world. The focus is on increasing coherence between the numerous, often competing, processes and organisations relevant for forests at international level. The UN Strategic Plan for Forests for 2017 to 2030 was adopted in January 2017. This is the first plan to serve as a joint reference framework for the entire UN and all other international players. A close link to the 2030 Agenda, reflected in the global goals, is envisaged for its implementation.
Regulations on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) have been developed as part of the UNFCCC to support developing countries in maintaining and further developing the forests' role as carbon sinks. To this end, social and ecological safeguards were agreed in 2010 in Cancún and in 2013, systematic requirements for performance-oriented payments under the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ were worked out. This set the course for national implementation of this mechanism. REDD+ can contribute greatly to global forest conservation and climate action and to climate neutrality in the second half of the century, which is recognised in Article 5 of the Paris Agreement.
The German government supports developing countries and emerging economies in establishing appropriate legal, financial and institutional conditions to conserve and restore forests. At the 2015 Climate Summit in Paris, Germany, Norway and the UK announced that they would make five billion US dollars available by 2020 for effective forest conservation programmes. Via its International Climate Initiative, the BMU is supporting REDD+ and the conservation and restoration of natural carbon sinks.
In 1998, the European Commission drafted a forest strategy laying down several key areas of activity for the promotion of sustainable forest management in Europe. The strategy was the result of commitments made at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), follow-up conferences and the Ministerial Conference for the Protection of Forests in Europe (FOREST EUROPE), with goals from its action plan to be achieved between 2007 and 2011. Given that social and political claims changed considerably, the European Commission drew up a new forest strategy in 2013. This strategy highlights ten interlinked focal areas for the European timber industry and forest management.
The EU Timber Regulation under the EU's FLEGT Action Plan (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) regulates national controls of timber imports from countries that concluded partnership agreements with the EU against illegal logging (EU Council Regulation 2173/2005). Agreements have been negotiated with six tropical countries so far. Under these agreements, the partner countries commit themselves to setting up licensing schemes to ensure that only legally produced timber products are exported to the EU. In return, they receive direct support for the enhancement of their capacities in forest management and law enforcement and easier access to the EU market thanks to provisions of the EU Timber Regulation. The first country to put this system into practice was Indonesia. Since 15 September 2016, timber products from Indonesia must be accompanied by FLEGT licenses for import into the EU. The licensing scheme is independently and strictly monitored so that no additional proof of legality under the EU Timber Regulation is needed for these products.