Forest governance: Theme 4 Assessment

Published: October 24, 2022

Effective forest governance results in clear policy and legal frameworks that are conducive to meaningful participation of all groups, holds governments accountable and promotes action toward the achievement of shared goals, such as forest protection and improved land tenure and access to natural resources.

The evidence shows that weak forest governance results in negative impacts, not just on forest landscapes and their ecosystems, but also on societies, and, in particular, those who are most dependent on forest lands, including IPs and LCs, poor people, and other marginalized groups. Where countries have successfully reduced deforestation, this success has resulted from robust governance systems.

In a world where voluntary pledges are increasingly used to communicate intent to work collectively toward the 2030 forest goals, effective forest governance remains the foundation to ensure that actions are aligned toward a common objective.


With only eight years left to reach the 2030 goals, governance of forests and forest lands is not yet strong enough to curb deforestation and degradation in line with those goals. Robust legal and policy instruments such as moratoria, strengthened enforcement capacity, smart conservation policies, and improved transparency and accountability are effective in protecting forests—as evidenced by remarkable reductions in deforestation in various periods since 2004 when these tools have been employed in Indonesia, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guyana, and Brazil. Yet, some of these achievements have been reversed—notably in Brazil—or are at risk of being reversed as countries phase out or roll back policy gains through recent or proposed amendments.

In some countries, reforms and new initiatives have strengthened legal and policy frameworks governing forests and land use. Jurisdictions such as the Republic of the Congo and the United States have recently developed laws and policies to protect and sustainably manage their forests more effectively. Others, like the European Union (EU), Australia, Vietnam, and China are expanding on their demand-side regulations by developing laws addressing import of forest-risk commodities and enhancing traceability in the forest sector. However, most of these proposals lack sufficient detail, are in early stages of development, or have yet to be implemented at a sufficient scale to curb deforestation in line with the 2030 goal.

More inclusive approaches to policy development, implementation and enforcement have been adopted by a growing number of countries, reflecting both growing capacity and expertise within civil society and government recognition of the value of forest protection. This has resulted in improvements in policies and laws, and enhanced accountability of government and the private sector in, for example, the Republic of the Congo, Ghana, and Cameroon. 

Law enforcement has also improved in a few tropical forest countries, for example contributing to reducing illegal timber exports from Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and reduced deforestation in Indonesia. But there has also been a weakening of enforcement in some other countries and gaps in the existing legal frameworks, preventing effective enforcement. Furthermore, corruption is widespread in many forest areas, facilitating illegalities in forests and illegal trade in timber.

Finally, tenure insecurity is persistent in many countries, with at least 50 percent of the lands and territories held by IPs and LCs still not legally recognized. Reforms in Congo Basin countries such as the Republic of the Congo and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have strengthened IPs and LCs rights’ recognition and protection. However, some other major tropical forest countries have weakened the legal protection of IPs and LCs’ rights through regulatory and legislative changes, or have not accelerated implementation of relevant policies and laws so that IPs and LCs still face violations of their territorial rights, as well as violence and marginalization.


Governments must take urgent steps to strengthen forest governance, including:  

  • Address weaknesses, overlaps, and ambiguities in forest legal frameworks; clarify unclear and overlapping laws, regulations, and institutional mandates; streamline legal frameworks in the forest and non-forest sectors; and improving the enforcement authorities’ capacity to understand the law.  
  • Halt and reverse the weakening of legal frameworks and institutional capacities. Governments should carefully assess the long-term implications of recent rollbacks for sustainable development and forests. This includes recent amendments and introduction of laws that undermine forest protection and reforms weakening environmental and social protections in the wake of COVID-19. 
  • Secure IPs anf LCs’ land tenure rights by developing and implementing clear and coherent laws that formally recognize and protect these rights.
  • Implement inclusive processes for forest governance, including by embedding the participation and inclusion of forest-dependent communities in forest decision-making into the legal frameworks, ensuring that IPs and LCs are consulted on and have consented to decisions around their forest lands through a process of FPIC.  More broadly, ensure participation of non-state actors in policy and law-making and implementation; land-use planning; law enforcement; and forest monitoring.  
  • Address regulatory weaknesses and ensure the proper implementation of environmental and social impact assessments (ESIAs) and of legislations on protected areas. Proper implementation of ESIAs includes, considering all direct, indirect, and cumulative negative impacts on forests and the people dependent on them, and prioritizing their avoidance in accordance with the mitigation hierarchy. 
  • Increase checks and balances to combat corruption in the land and forest sector. This requires, for example, limiting government officials’ discretion in approving concessions; adopting robust rules to avoid conflicts of interest; implementing robust timber legality assurance systems and due diligence requirements; and ensuring compliance with or the strengthening of transparency laws. 
  • Strengthen enforcement by allocating sufficient resources to enforcement agencies, strengthening international cooperation, and empowering civil society and communities in monitoring.
  • Strengthen land-use planning, including evidence-based spatial planning analyses and processes for allocation of concessions and ESIAs, in alignment with forest goals.

Only eight years remain to achieve the twin global goals of halting and reversing deforestation by 2030. Despite encouraging signs, not a single global indicator is on track to meet these 2030 goals of of stopping forest loss and degradation and restoring 350 million hectares of forest landscape.

The 2022 Forest Declaration Assessment sheds a stark light on the state of global forest commitments but offers hope that achieving the 2030 forest goals is possible. The Assessment is presented as series of four reports on Overarching forest goals (Theme 1), Sustainable production and development (Theme 2), Finance for forests (Theme 3), and Forest governance (Theme 4) -- all summarized in an Executive Summary.

Further Resources

Forest governance: Theme 4 Assessment
Forest governance: Theme 4 assessment [Low Resolution]
Forest governance: Theme 4 assessment [Low Resolution]