Accountability drives action: How civil society-led assessment supports forest pledges

Countries and companies are increasingly making voluntary pledges to signal their intent to act on climate change. But without monitoring and reporting, pledges can quickly become empty promises. Civil society and the research community are well-placed to take the lead in tracking and assessing action and policy implementation.

/ July 4, 2022

Countries and companies are increasingly making voluntary pledges to signal their intent to act on climate change. The last few years have seen a string of pledges in the area of forestry and land use, including forest protection, sustainable supply chains, the energy transition and climate finance. While these pledges play an important role in showcasing ambition, they must be followed by tangible actions to meet climate and forest protection targets. However, many of the recent forest-related pledges do not have built-in monitoring and reporting measures in place, making it difficult for policymakers and civil society to assess progress.

Without monitoring and reporting, pledges can quickly become empty promises.

Independent tracking mechanisms can help drive accountability on pledges and address the gaps between intent and action. Civil society and the research community are particularly well-placed to take the lead in tracking and assessing action and policy implementation. They are often at the forefront of local climate action and bring important community connections and perspectives on the ground-level of the consequences of inaction on the part of stakeholders in power.

The Forest Declaration Assessment is the most comprehensive civil society-led effort to assess collective progress toward 2030 forest goals.

Since the launch of the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) in 2014 – the first high-level multi-stakeholder forest protection pledge – the Forest Declaration Assessment has tracked global forest action and developed a baseline for measuring progress toward the target of halting and reversing deforestation by 2030. This global initiative coordinated by Climate Focus, in partnership over 20 international partners with expertise in forest protection and action, has led to the publication of seven annual reports on the state of action to meet 2030 forest goals. Initially a tracking mechanism against the 10 goals of the NYDF, the assessment has evolved in response to the plethora of new forest pledges that emerged at COP26. Based on our extensive assessment experience and the expertise of our partners, we have updated how we will work moving forward to hold commitment-makers accountable to their voluntary pledges while supporting the speed of action we need to meet the 2030 target of halting and reversing deforestation.

A new forward-thinking approach to tracking action across key priority areas to end deforestation

The Forest Declaration Assessment will track progress towards forest goals including all major forest declarations, from the NYDF to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, and specific forests pledges like the Global Forest Finance Pledge. One of our biggest learnings from over seven years of conducting assessments, is that while it is important to review how far we have come, it is equally important to know how much further we have to go. The new assessment approach reflects this.

We have organized the Forest Declaration Assessment into four themes which highlight not only the key areas for performance but also the interconnectedness and influence of various stakeholders across sectors.

  1. First, we need strong targets to guide efforts.
    1. We track progress on ending deforestation and restoring degraded lands. What does the data show – are we slowing the rate of global deforestation? Are we on track to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030? How quickly do we need to shift the current trends to meet the 2030 targets? 
  2. Second, we need to transform global supply chains to become more sustainable.
    1. We assess the extent to which countries are successfully rejecting and overcoming trade-offs between economic growth and forests. Are governments and companies developing and implementing economic and social development trajectories that increase human prosperity while sustainably managing and conserving forests, both at home and abroad? 
  3. Third, we need to rethink finance, both in terms of where new funds are deployed and how existing funds can be redirected.
    1. Our assessment asks: how much money will it cost to protect, manage, and restore forests in line with the 2030 goals? How much of that “green” finance is being invested already? And how much existing finance is being invested in other sectors in ways that hinder progress in the forest sector? Under this theme, we assess how financial actors are taking responsibility for the impacts that their spending has on forests around the world. 
  4. Finally, we need inclusive decision-making and strong governance.
    1. We assess the legislative and policy frameworks in place to enable forest protection, sustainable management, and restoration; and the degree to which governments are successfully enforcing those policies and laws. This theme will also assess the extent to which citizens, and especially Indigenous Peoples and local communities, are empowered to participate in decision-making and exercise their rights to territory.  

The Assessment Framework approach is systematic, grounded in evidence and built on the knowledge and expertise of a wide network of partners, aiming to drive action.

The Forest Declaration Assessment was developed to enable decision makers, public or private, to identify key gaps across sectors, and to overcome challenges in addressing these gaps. To this end, the Framework uses three criteria to evaluate the extent of forest action:

  • Do policies/ interventions/ measures exist?
  • Are the measures in place good enough? Do they cover the required scope and address the right levers for change?
  • Have steps been taken to fully implement the measures so that they aren’t just on paper? Are policies integrated into domestic plans? Are the responsible agencies adequately funded? Are we beginning to see impact?

This work is driven by a network of leading global and regional civil society and research organizations and the Forest Declaration Assessment Partners, including groups who work directly on forests or with forest communities, to generate insights, support implementation through research, as well as direct advocacy to stakeholders in adopting recommendations.

By combining data, expertise, and networks, the Forest Declaration Assessment helps drive progress at a country and regional level. 

This year, we will apply the new Assessment Framework in 15 major forest countries spanning four continents to assess actions taken by governments, companies, financial institutions, civil society, and Indigenous peoples and local communities to reach 2030 forest targets. In the future, we will gradually expand the dataset to include all major forest and consumer countries. Such a comprehensive and evidence-backed assessment of country-level progress will help national leaders identify policy areas requiring action, anticipated challenges, and potential solutions.

Recognizing the critical role played by civil society and research actors in providing relevant and up-to-date data, we are also piloting a bottom-up assessment process regionally in the Congo Basin, in direct collaboration with local networks and organizations. Congo Basin is a critical tropical carbon sink, and an important historically high-forest/low-deforestation (HFLD) area, characterized by significant private sector supply chains, forest finance, and conservation activities. This status is under threat, however, with growing signs of increasing pressure to Congo Basin forests. The regional assessment will identify research gaps, and advocate findings and potential solutions directly to government decision-makers, donors, and other key actors.

The Forest Declaration Assessment Partners have reflected on and adapted to the changing landscape of voluntary international forest pledges. The Assessment will continue to support accountability and drive progress toward 2030 forest goals by reporting on progress so far, highlighting where efforts may be falling short and commitments makers have failed to live up to promises; as well as by looking to the future, identifying barriers to progress and providing recommendations on overcoming those barriers.

At the end of the day, the Forest Declaration Assessment aims to offer an essential reality check for decision-makers, advocates, and other stakeholders by providing rigorous evidence-based stocktakes and recommendations for action that take into account the interconnected nature of forest action.

Photo credit: Donny Iqbal/CIFOR-ICRAF via Flickr