Ending tropical deforestation: 10 lessons for laying the foundations

Over the past decade, the EU REDD Facility has worked with many partners across Africa, Asia and Latin America to understand the governance challenges driving deforestation and to develop pragmatic approaches and solutions to land-use governance and sustainable development. As we celebrate our 10-year anniversary, we are reflecting on lessons learnt and sharing our insights.

We have found that combining climate, technical and trade-related interventions has great potential to address the drivers of deforestation, and that working alongside governments to facilitate difficult changes is key. We’ve also seen that protecting forests and creating incentives for sustainable land use are only possible if governments, private sectors, and civil societies partner to generate change.

In coming years, we look forward to focusing on legality in land allocation, improved sustainability of land use, and increased transparency in forest-risk commodity supply chains. Here, we offer 10 lessons distilled from 10 years of work.

1. There must be clear and well-enforced legal frameworks for land use.

What we’ve learnt: Unclear legal frameworks — and a lack of implementation and compliance with these frameworks — often lead to illegal land allocation and forest conversion, including for the expansion of commercial agriculture.

Why it matters: Giving forest and agriculture sector actors incentives to comply with the law strengthens efforts to make commodity production and trade deforestation-free. It also promotes better land-use governance and helps achieve climate change targets.

Dive deeper: Take a look at our work to clarify legal frameworks and incentives for compliance, including the contribution of legal frameworks to forest-related climate change targets in Indonesia.


2. Participatory and informed land-use planning is key to reduce land conflicts and deforestation.

What we’ve learnt: Inclusion and collaboration are important for successful designing and implementing of land-use plans. To ensure the voices of all stakeholders are heard and that they inform decision-making about how land is allocated and used, participatory approaches are needed. 

Why it matters: If representatives of all stakeholder groups at different levels – including local communities and organisations – are involved in important official decisions about land use, there is more compliance with land laws, and more sustainable outcomes are achieved for everyone. 

Dive deeper: Our Land-use Planner is an interactive tool that helps state and non-state practitioners develop land-use scenarios in a simple, participatory way.


3. Partnership approaches build an enabling environment for sustainable land-use.

What we’ve learnt: Clarifying definitions and responsibilities, sharing credible information for decision-makers, and fostering trust between partners builds transparency and accountability in the forest and land-use sectors.

Why it matters: These efforts build an enabling environment for forest-friendly development and investment, and help countries put their climate change targets into action.

Dive deeper: In all our work and through the tools and approaches we develop, we collaborate and promote dialogue. Learn more about our support to partnerships approaches


4. Open, reliable information on global forest-risk commodity supply chains is needed to build trust on both sides of the trade. 

What we’ve learnt: Innovations in supply-chain transparency help to hold global supply chain players – including producing and consuming governments – accountable to the commitments they have made to deal with deforestation and risks linked to products in their supply chains. 

Why it matters: The complexity and opacity of global supply chains has made it difficult to tackle deforestation in mainstream markets. For most commodities with deforestation risks, the relevant information is not readily available to support action and policy implementation. Improving supply-chain transparency can help achieve deforestation-free production and trade. 

Dive deeper: We have partnered with the Trase initiative to improve transparency, clarity and accessibility of information on commodity supply chains driving tropical deforestation. Our Transparency Pathway offers a pragmatic method to shift commodity markets towards sustainability, by harnessing the potential of existing information and transparency instruments.


5. Consensus on definitions and data is needed to track progress towards sustainability.

What we’ve learnt: Agreed sustainability definitions and monitoring systems help authorities improve their governance of land and forests. By developing these indicators through multistakeholder consultation, trust and legitimacy are entrenched.

Why it matters: Using simple and objective ways to verify sustainability performance, grounded in national laws and regulations, is a mutually beneficial approach for producer and consumer countries.

Dive deeper: Our work on the Indonesian Terpercaya initiative offers a promising model for sustainable and inclusive commodity production and trade.


6. Nationally Determined Contributions offer opportunities to raise the profile of forest and land-use governance.

What we’ve learnt: The majority of tropical countries have integrated forests and agriculture into their NDCs. Robust and participatory NDC processes offer opportunities to address the drivers of deforestation by combining climate, aid and trade-related interventions, and raising the profile of forest and land use governance. 

Why it matters: Forest loss is a major contributor to global climate change. Improved forest governance is key to addressing deforestation and forest degradation. It reinforces inclusive decision-making and transparency in the forest and land use sector and promotes the rule of law. Failing to address underlying governance drivers of deforestation puts the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change at risk.

Dive deeper: At the EU REDD Facility, we are working with our partners to develop tools and approaches that empower stakeholders and facilitate dialogue to support effective and informed decision-making and action to address deforestation and achieve NDC targets.


7. Community forestry can improve livelihoods and achieve climate commitments.

What we’ve learnt: Communities protect, manage, and use their forests in many ways. Some rely on logging and the timber trade to make a living. This trade needs to be economically viable and support livelihoods, while at the same time supporting sustainable management and protecting against deforestation.

Why it matters: Legal timber production can unlock livelihood opportunities for vulnerable groups, while also reducing illegality, deforestation, and forest degradation.

Dive deeper: Find out about our work in Indonesia and in Colombia, where we’re exploring ways for community forestry to contribute to climate and forest-related objectives and commitments.


8. Tracking investments in land-use helps to deploy resources for supporting forest and climate objectives. 

What we’ve learnt: Tropical forest countries can get valuable support from international public finance sources to help achieve their climate and forest goals, but these funds can’t meet the scale of investment required. Countries can attract private finance and make the case for more international support by presenting a transparent analysis of land-use investments, and their plans to improve the coherence of forest and climate-friendly spending.

Why it matters: There are opportunities to redirect the hundreds of billions spent annually on land-use activities around the world towards low emissions, without sacrificing productivity or economic development.

Dive deeper: Our Land-use Finance Tool helps to map public investments that support forest and climate objectives, and those that drive deforestation.


9. Socio-economic factors driving smallholder land-use decisions must be considered.

What we’ve learnt: Smallholder farmers are central to the transition towards sustainable production, yet they struggle to invest in sustainable practices when they live below the poverty line and have limited access to finance. For change to happen at scale, initiatives offering financial incentives to smallholders must not only support the initial costs of agroforestry and replantation, but also provide solid income diversification opportunities.

Why it matters: Understanding the economy of smallholders and the potential profitability of new production models is a prerequisite for transitioning towards more sustainable land-use practices.

Dive deeper: We have deep experience with designing and testing payment for environmental services approaches. See our work in Côte d’Ivoire to learn more. 


10. Commodity and trade approaches provide a powerful lever for governance reform.

What we’ve learnt: Numerous initiatives aim to address forest and land-use governance challenges. Learning from commodity and trade approaches such as the EU’s Voluntary Partnership Agreements under the EU FLEGT Action Plan can help to define the elements that create an enabling environment for zero-deforestation production and related trade.

Why it matters: It is essential to capitalise on initiatives that are effectively bringing visibility, support and competence to forest and land-use governance.

Dive deeper: Our work concentrates on countries engaged in both VPA and REDD+ processes, and the areas where these processes intersect.