By the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals, also referred to as the Sustainable Development Goals are a universal commitment to ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring human well-being.

Timber is a sustainable building material. Image credit: FSC

Timber is a sustainable building material. Image credit: FSC

At the core of this agenda are 17 Goals with 169 targets, that cover the three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – with a strong focus on quality of life, justice, and equality, as well as the sustainable consumption, production and use of natural resources. 1

South Africa has embedded the SDG’s in its national development priorities and is also signatory to the Africa Union’s Agenda 2063 – both these drive South Africa’s implementation of the SDG’s. A key instrument to implement the SDG’s in South Africa is the Government’s Bio-economy strategy, which has the goal for bio-economy sector to be a significant contributor to the country’s economy and GDP in 2030.

Halting deforestation and forest degradation and practising sustainable forest management are important for limiting climate change and its impacts, protecting biodiversity and freshwater supplies, providing raw materials for a ‘low ecological footprint’ economy, and protecting the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people. The SDGs can be major drivers in efforts to halt deforestation and forest degradation worldwide, and to strengthen the positive contributions that forests play in the future of sustainable development. That is why the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) actively supported the formulation of the SDGs and the indicators that will help actors to focus their actions.

The FSC is a significant partner in contributing to achieving 14 of these Goals and 40 targets.

Let us unpack how the FSC meets some of these goals:

FSC’s contribution is mostly directed towards Goal 15 – Life on Land in terms of its mandate to promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increases afforestation and reforestation globally. The FSC certification scheme promotes sustainable forest management globally is now applied to 202.240 million hectares globally.

The FSC’s contribution to Goal 1 – No Poverty entails working with smallholders towards achieving FSC certification which will assist them in gaining additional income and security via long-term supply contracts, provision of reasonable ‘living wages’, training, protection of forest workers and agreements with local communities that guarantee their share in the benefits of forest management.

Goal 2 – Zero hunger is addressed through the FSC’s focus on protecting biodiversity and to mitigating the effects of climate change. Forests can complement sustainable food production systems and if managed correctly can promote resilient agriculture practices (Goal 15.2).

Well-managed forests support Goal 3 – Healthy lives and well-being by supporting efforts to reduce pollution, ensuring sound health and safety practices are in place for workers, implementing the FSC pesticides policy ensuring social and environmental protection, providing job-specific training, fair compensation to workers in case of occupational diseases.

A study carried out in the Congo Basin showed significantly better provision in FSC concessions than in neighbouring concessions (FSC, 2019) of: safety equipment (100 per cent compared with 75 per cent), procedures to control and verify use of safety equipment (90 per cent cf. 25 per cent), and health and life insurance for all staff (100 per cent cf. 25 per cent).

FSC forest management requirements contribute to Goal 4 – Quality Education through the increase of educational opportunities for children and adults in FSC managed forest units. The Congo Basin study that shows that, “Education opportunities in addition to state-run services” in FSC-certified concessions scores 78 per cent compared with 33 per cent in other concessions”. (FSC, 2019)

There are several indicators the FSC monitors within its certified forest units, including equal pay, training opportunities, guaranteed maternity leave, paternity leave, participation in decision-making, eliminating sexual harassment which contribute to Goal 5 – Gender Equality. FSC requires certified organisations to bridge the gaps where these exist.

The FSC certifies ecosystem services within its certified areas over and above various FSC principles that contribute to maintaining and/or improving water quality in forests through training of forest workers in manoeuvring machines, waste and pesticide management, forest road construction, and watershed management all contribute to Goal 6 – Clean water and sanitation.

Globally 2.6 billion people depend on fuelwood for their everyday activities such as cooking, heating and sterilising water, providing an effective alternative to fossil fuels. FSC recognises that carbon capture and storage is an important component of the forest ecosystem and carbon cycle. This contributes to the achievement of Goal 7 – Affordable and clean energy.

The new FSC Ecosystems Services Procedure (FSC, 2019) can be used to measure and communicate the impacts of forest management on the carbon stock, as well as of the consequences of harvesting forest materials for bio-energy use.

This means that FSC certification is not only a reliable tool for promoting sustainable forest management, but also a step towards the sustainable production of bioenergy that will help to minimise greenhouse gas emissions. This contributes to Target 7.2, to increase the share of renewable energy by 2030.

FSC supports the SDG targets for Goal 8 – Decent work and economic growth, with FSC’s commitment to workers’ rights and employment conditions. Timber is recognised as a sustainable material and an efficient resource in terms of waste minimisation and recyclability.

FSC is an ideal tool to promote Goal 12 – Responsible consumption and production, through its comprehensive FSC claims and labelling system which provides supply chain integrity via traceability from responsibly managed forests all the way through the production process onto the retailer shelf through its chain-of-custody standard and certification processes.

The importance of forests in tackling Goal 13 – Climate Action, specifically climate change cannot be overstated as carbon is stored in both trees and forest soils. FSC gives special attention to protecting the function of forests as net removers of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Responsible forest management also contributes to Goal 14 – Life below water, as FSC requires the protection of natural watercourses, water bodies, riparian zones and their connectivity, and to avoid “negative impacts on water quality and quantity and to mitigate or remedy those that occur” (FSC, 2019).

The FSC’s governance, stakeholder engagement systems and criteria covering the enforcement of relevant laws forms the basis of sustainable forest management, which supports Goal 16 – Peace, justice and strong institutions.

Goal 17 – Partnership for the Goals is achieved in numerous ways by the FSC from supporting legal and commercially viable forest management practices that contribute to increasing national incomes through fees and taxes, assisting in implementing legislation that closes down markets for illegally traded timber, domestic resource mobilisation, increasing exports from developing countries and promoting smallholder co-operative certification.

As demonstrated by these contributions to these Sustainable Development Goals, FSC is a significant instrument for achieving the SDGs. Indeed, FSC is a relevant partner for all who seek to take meaningful action to support sustainable natural resources management and the achievement of environmental, social and economic objectives.