Goal 6: Include ambitious, quantitative forest conservation and restoration targets for 2030 in the post-2015 global development framework, as part of new international sustainable development goals

 Key Messages

  • Since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in 2015 attention has been focused on establishing the frameworks for implementing and monitoring them. Indicators are being developed to measure the various targets at the global level, and the choice of indicators has the potential to influence how the targets are interpreted in practice.
  • The indicators currently proposed to measure the SDG targets that address forest conservation and restoration focus on total forest cover, forest cover change, change in carbon stocks and areas designated for biodiversity conservation and under forest management plans.
  • The proposed indicators would not directly measure gross forest loss or restoration. This may undermine the ambitious forest conservation goal adopted as part of the SDGs.




The objective of Goal 6 is the adoption of targets on forest conservation and restoration as part of the SDGs. In addition, it provides three qualifiers: such targets should be 1) quantifiable; 2) ambitious; and 3) relate to the year 2030.

The SDGs, adopted in September 2015, are a set of 17 ambitious goals agreed on by the United Nations. They replace and amend the Millennium Development Goals, which expired in 2015, and address a broad range of themes covering the pillars of sustainable development, namely the social, economic and environmental pillars. Each goal is framed broadly and then broken down into a number of specific targets. In addition, a list of indicators to monitor implementation and report on progress toward meeting the goals and targets at a global level are under development by an Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs).

While Goal 6 targets a specific action (i.e. the inclusion of targets within the SDGs) the precise contours of how the forestry goals are interpreted is still being determined through the development of indicators to measure progress toward meeting them. This year’s assessment therefore focuses on the developments in designing these indicators and how the indicators as they are currently proposed affect the ambition of the targets adopted in 2015. We track progress according to two indicators, one focusing on forest conservation targets and the other on restoration targets.


table 5




In February 2016 the IAEG-SDGs presented their proposal for the global indicator framework for monitoring the SDGs. This framework included a list of 230 indicators designed to monitor the 169 targets included within the SDGs. The group proposed that these indicators be divided into three ‘tiers,’ based on the availability of existing methodologies and data for measuring them.(34) The UN Statistical Commission agreed to this framework in March 2016, but acknowledged that it only represented a “starting point”, and that more work would need to be done to refine the indicators over time. Responsibility for developing methodologies for those indicators for which they were not available (“Tier III Indicators”) was given to a range of international organizations with specific competences in the relevant areas. Table 6 summarizes the indicators agreed upon for the forest-related targets under SDG 15 – Targets 15.1 and 15.2.


table 6


While the indicators for Target 15.1 can already be measured based on existing data, the task of developing methodologies for measuring Indicator 15.2.1 has been given to FAO. In September 2016 an informal group of different international bodies set up by FAO presented an update on progress, including the development of the following proposed sub-indicators:(35)

  1. Annual average percent change in forest area (most recent available 5-year period).
  2. Annual average percent change in stock of carbon in above-ground biomass (most recent available 5-year period).
  3. Share of forest area whose primary designated function is biodiversity conservation (most recent period). Share of forest area under a forest management plan, of which forest area certified under an independent forest management certification scheme (most recent period).

These proposed indicators will be considered by the IAEG-SDGs in October 2016 and, if agreed upon, will be presented for adoption by the UN Statistical Commission in March 2017.

It should be noted that forests bear considerable relevance also for other SGDs. For example, forests are highly relevant for resilience-building and adaptation to natural hazard events in many countries susceptible to climate change, which is directly linked to Target 13.1.(36)


Criterion 1: Adoption of forest targets in SDGs

Indicator 1.1: Forest conservation

Our 2015 assessment found the conservation target adopted in SDG 15.2 – specifically the aim to “halt deforestation” – to be both quantifiable and highly ambitious. Although it does not specifically refer to stopping the loss of natural forests, we interpreted the language of the text to refer to stopping gross deforestation by 2020. This interpretation is supported by the plain language of the target (“halt deforestation”) and the fact that forest enhancement is dealt with separately.

The indicators adopted by the UN Statistical Commission and the sub-indicators currently proposed by FAO do not allow for measuring progress toward this ambitious goal. By focusing only on total forest area and change in forest area they only measure net, rather than gross, deforestation, and so do not provide information on the extent to which deforestation of natural forests is still taking place. At the same time, the assessment of carbon stocks does provide some indication of this, since new growth forest will generally have significantly lower carbon stocks than old growth forest.

Indicator 1.2: Forest restoration

In contrast to the target on forest conservation, the parts of SDG 15.2 dealing with restoration, afforestation and reforestation are not quantifiable. Instead, proposals for quantifiable targets on reforestation were removed from the final version of the SDGs. Adopting indicators that measure the extent of forest restoration would have probably allowed for overall progress to be measured. However, the adopted indicators and proposed sub-indicators do not allow for any specific measurement of forest restoration, afforestation and reforestation. Measurements of change in carbon stocks nevertheless provide an indication of the quality of existing forests.




It is not clear whether the decision not to specifically measure gross deforestation or forest restoration is due to a lack of available data.