Nature and Biodiversity

5 ways sustainable forestry can support climate action, development and biodiversity

Sustainable forestry can catalyse climate action.

Sustainable forestry can catalyse climate action. Image: Timberland Investment Group

Charlotte Kaiser
Head of Impact Finance, BTG Pactual Timberland Investment Group
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SDG 15: Life on Land

This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate
  • Sustainable forestry can catalyze climate action through reforestation and sustainable management of working forests.
  • By increasing demand for sustainably produced forest products, we can incentivize reforestation on a meaningful scale.
  • Innovative financing models could combine commercial forestry with the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems.

Envisioning a climate-stable future requires a dual strategy as far as the world’s forests are concerned: protecting and restoring natural forests for all of their ecological and climate benefits while also sustainably managing working forests to drive the global transformation to a sustainable, circular bioeconomy.

Many are uncomfortable at the thought of cutting down a tree. While wood is a useful material, people don't like the idea that it should be harvested from a forest. In a 2017 study commissioned by the North American Forest Partnership, nearly four out of five respondents thought wood was a renewable material; however, fewer than one in five associated the forest sector with sustainability.

That’s an unfortunate misconception and in our current era of climate disasters, it’s becoming a dangerous one. The reality is that sustainable forestry and forest products can help us save the planet from ourselves. Here are five ways how.

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1. Investing in reforestation

The forest sector holds both the responsibility and opportunity to advance some of the solutions the world needs to minimize waste and ensure nature thrives – putting it on the frontline of climate action.

Firstly, forestry’s carbon footprint is already quite low compared with other industries and increasing demand for sustainably produced forest products can drive reforestation at meaningful scales, delivering significant climate benefits. A durable market for sustainable wood products creates economic support for landowners to plant trees, manage the growing forests and replant new trees as they are harvested. Research has shown that when forest product prices rise in the United States, landowners plant more trees.

There is often public concern that increasing demand for forest products drives deforestation of natural forests, yet the opposite is often true. Most deforestation is driven by conversion to agriculture. Driving up the economic value of sustainable working forests is a proven way to prevent the conversion of forests to alternative forms of land use. Research has also found that forests managed for sustained timber production can be more resistant to deforestation, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Guatemala.

Of course, a small share of deforestation results from the demand for forest products. To address this, producers and consumers of these products must make and adhere to firm commitments to deforestation-free operations and supply chains.

2. Investing in natural forest restoration

Given its close relationship with nature, the forest sector is crucial in contributing to regenerating and restoring nature globally through management practices that meaningfully improve the health and resilience of ecosystems, species and people.

Driven by the growing demand among investors for greater climate and nature impact and high-quality nature-based carbon credits, companies, NGOs and communities are innovating new approaches that link financing for commercial forestry with efforts to protect and restore natural ecosystems. These efforts include restoring peatland and wetlands, reintroducing native and endangered tree species on degraded lands, creating wildlife corridors and enhancing soil carbon stocks.

For example, the Timberland Investment Group, where I work, with Conservation International’s support, is undertaking a $1 billion strategy to invest in properties in Latin America that have been previously deforested to protect and restore natural forest on half the land acquired under the strategy and establish sustainably managed commercial tree farms on the other half.

3. Supporting Indigenous peoples and local communities

The traditional territories of Indigenous and local communities cover a quarter of the Earth’s lands but contain 80% of Earth’s remaining biodiversity. It is estimated that nearly 200 million Indigenous people depend on forests for their livelihoods. Support for sustainable forest products can direct capital into Indigenous-managed landscapes while supporting livelihoods that represent an alternative to expanding the agricultural frontier.

There are a growing number of examples of this strategy’s success, including the work being supported by the Nature Conservancy within the Moomba community in Zambia, which has won the right to sustainably harvest and profit from its forest resources.

4. Reducing pressure on intact forests and their biodiversity

Deforestation is a critical threat to biodiversity, and protecting our existing forests is one of the best ways to preserve the world’s remaining forest ecosystems.

Planted forests comprise only 7% of the world’s forest area but provide almost half its commercial timber. Sustainable management of these planted forests can help meet the growing demand for renewable materials while reducing pressure on natural forests and their rich biodiversity.

5. Reducing the carbon footprint of construction

The forest sector is well-positioned to grow the circular bioeconomy using wood from sustainable working forests as a renewable material. Turning sustainably harvested trees into long-lived wood products like mass timber can substitute for carbon-intensive concrete and steel and turn new buildings' walls, floors and ceilings into carbon vaults that persist for decades or longer.

A recent study suggests that widespread adoption of mass timber worldwide could, by 2100, reduce annual global emissions by an amount equivalent to nearly half the total emissions of the entire United States. Scaling up this alternative economic model requires deliberate and collaborative action along the entire forest products value chain and within the broader operating environment.

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In short, the forest sector lies at the heart of the needed transition to a low-carbon, circular bioeconomy due to the ability of working forests and sustainable forest products to capture and store carbon; to reduce pressure on intact ecosystems and the species that call them home; to support equitable development across rural landscapes; and provide new funding models for natural restoration at large scales.

Indeed, in the right circumstances, cutting down trees – and replanting them – can deliver all these benefits and more.

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