Forests, Progress on SDGs Contribute to Recovery from Pandemic - IISD

Policy briefs from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) explain how pre-pandemic progress on the SDGs may be reducing the impacts of COVID-19, and how forests can make a unique contribution to recovery.


The brief on ‘Achieving the SDGs through the COVID-19 response and recovery,’ released on 22 June 2020, reports that accelerating efforts to reach the SDGs will also better position countries to recover from COVID-19.


Moreover, progress on several SDGs that had been achieved before the pandemic can be seen mitigating its impacts. For example, the authors say, progress on SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) has enabled more people to wash their hands regularly, an important strategy for containing the COVID-19 virus. Past progress on SDG 11 (sustainable cities and community) has reduced crowding and therefore virus exposure, and improved access to basic services. Past progress on SDG 3 has lessened pre-existing health conditions that can make COVID-19 cases more severe. Finally, progress on SDGs 8 (decent work and economic growth) and 9 (which includes internet access) have helped to mitigate the overall impacts of the pandemic.


Going forward, authors Shantanu Mukherjee and Astra Bonini suggest that the SDGs can serve as “preventive medicine against future shocks” as long as countries adopt more equitable and sustainable ways forward. These could include a just transition for workers to the green economy, elimination of fuel subsidies, and introduction of carbon taxes.


The brief also asserts that the world can move towards achieving the SDGs through “thoughtful and targeted” actions, including accelerating the universal provision of quality basic services, and protecting nature from further degradation.


DESA also issued a policy brief illuminating how forests can be “at the heart of a green recovery” from COVID-19. One aspect of this recovery is the role of healthy forests in reducing the risk of future pandemics, since habitat loss is associated with zoonotic infectious diseases. Forests also remove about one third of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions each year, thus helping to mitigate climate change, which is another driver of emerging zoonotic diseases and other epidemic diseases.


The forestry sector is labor-intensive, job training requirements are low, the work requires minimal planning and procurement, and social distancing is possible when doing forestry work. The brief identifies several countries that are utilizing forestry for job creation and including it in economic stimulus packages.


Forests serve as “safety nets for the rural poor,” providing food, income and nutritional diversity for about 20% of the global population, especially women, children, landless farmers, and other vulnerable segments of society. In addition, many indigenous peoples are coping with the pandemic by retreating deeper into forests for food, fuel and shelter, and to protect themselves from the risk of COVID-19 infection. It is also noted that reliance on firewood is likely to grow during the COVID-19 crisis, as supply chains of other energy sources get disrupted.


Finally, forests are needed to ensure availability of clean water for frequent handwashing. Three quarters of the planet’s accessible freshwater comes from forested watersheds. Forests also affect rainfall patterns, filter water, reduce soil erosion, and provide most of the drinking water for over one-third of the world’s largest cities.


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