Achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is a commitment made by countries to tackle the complex challenges we face, from ending poverty and hunger and responding to climate change to building resilient communities, achieving inclusive growth and sustainably managing the Earth’s natural resources.

Forests and trees make vital contributions to both people and the planet, bolstering livelihoods, providing clean air and water, conserving biodiversity and responding to climate change.

“We have greater evidence on how forests are critical to livelihoods of the world’s poorest, with a better understanding of the trade-offs and more exact confirmation that healthy and productive forests are essential to sustainable agriculture.” 
José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General

As governments determine how best to commit national efforts to achieve transformational change, The State of the World’s Forests 2018 (SOFO 2018) analyses the role that forests and trees – and the people who use and manage them – can play in helping countries achieve their objectives and bring about a brighter future. SOFO 2018 shines a light on the profound interlinkages that exist between forests and many other goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda, enabling policymakers to strike the right balance in actions, investments and partnerships directed towards food security, poverty alleviation, ecological conservation and, ultimately, to find pathways to sustainable development.

Forests act as a source of food, medicine and fuel for more than a billion people. In addition to helping to respond to climate change and protect soils and water, forests hold more than three-quarters of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, provide many products and services that contribute to socio-economic development and are particularly important for hundreds of millions of people in rural areas, including many of the world’s poorest.

The world’s population is projected to increase from around 7.6 billion today to close to 10 billion people by 2050. The corresponding global demand for food – estimated to grow by 50 percent during this period – is placing enormous pressure on the way we use productive land, particularly in developing countries where the overwhelming majority of the world’s 800 million poor and hungry people are concentrated. Deforestation, chiefly caused by the conversion of forest land to agriculture and livestock areas, threatens not only the livelihoods of foresters, forest communities and indigenous peoples, but also the variety of life on our planet. Land-use changes result in a loss of valuable habitats, land degradation, soil erosion, a decrease in clean water and the release of carbon into the atmosphere. How to increase agricultural production and improve food security without reducing forest area is one of the great challenges of our times.

Evidence is key to opening the forest pathways to sustainable development.

While the importance of forests and trees to a healthy, prosperous planet is universally recognized, the depth of those roots may be greater than imagined. Several indicators under SDG15 focus on forests, specifically monitoring forest land and the share of forests under sustainable management. The Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA), coordinated by FAO, found that the world’s forest area decreased from 31.6 percent of the global land area to 30.6 percent between 1990 and 2015, but that the pace of loss has slowed in recent years.

There is quantitative evidence to show that forests are being managed more sustainably and that forests and trees contribute to achieving SDGs related to the livelihoods and food security of many rural poor, access to affordable energy, sustainable economic growth and employment (in the formal sector), sustainable consumption and production, and climate change mitigation, as well as sustainable forest management.

The people left furthest behind are often located in areas in and around forests.

The livelihoods and food security of many of the world’s rural poor depend on vibrant forests and trees. Evidence shows that around 40 percent of the extreme rural poor – around 250 million people – live in forest and savannah areas. Access to forest products, goods and services are vital for the livelihoods and resilience of the poorest households, acting as safety nets in difficult times. Some studies suggest that forests and trees may provide around 20 percent of income for rural households in developing countries, both through cash income and by meeting subsistence needs. Non-wood forest products (NWFPs) provide food, income, and nutritional diversity for an estimated one in five people around the world, notably women, children, landless farmers and others in vulnerable situations.

Water quality, essential to the health and life of both rural and urban populations, is directly related to forest management.

Changes in land cover, use and management have grave implications on a nation’s water supply. While three-quarters of the globe’s accessible freshwater comes from forested watersheds, research shows that 40 percent of the world’s 230 major watersheds have lost more than half of their original tree cover. Despite this, the area of forests managed for soil and water conservation has increased globally over the past 25 years, and in 2015 a quarter of forests were managed with soil and/or water conservation as an objective.