Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) consist of 17 integrated goals and 169 associated targets, agreed by the UN in September 2015, that will define the international agenda on sustainable development for the next fifteen years. The SDGs are part of 'Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development', and aim to stimulate collective action in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet, building on the Millennium Development Goals and completing what these did not achieve.

There are three SDGs that are relevant to community-based forest monitoring. Two of these (Goals 13 and 15) reinforce the call for forest protection and sustainable land use worldwide; elements of Goal 16 are also relevant to participatory processes and local decision-making. These goals are:

  • SDG 13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
  • SDG 15 Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystem, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. The targets under SDG 15 include Target 15.2: by 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally.
  • SDG 16 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. This includes Target 16.7: Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.

The SDGs explictly recognise and echo other international agendas, notably the UNFCCC REDD+ framework (Target 13) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (Target 15), providing an additional institutional incentive to pursue activities that can lead to tropical forest conservation.

The importance of the conservation and management of forests to achieving the SDGs is set out in this statement, agreed at XIV World Forestry Congress (September 2015). This emphasises the importance of forests to the planet and to hundreds of millions of the world's poorest people. Forests have a role to play in achieving many SDGs in addition to those listed above, namely SDGs related to protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems, ending poverty, achieving food security, promoting sustainable agriculture, and ensuring access to sustainable energy for all. The statement therefore calls for forests to be mainstreamed across strategies for the SDGs, including by addressing forest governance issues such as land tenure and gender equality.


SDGs and community-based forest monitoring

SDG forest monitoring
Forest monitors and community members of the Sinal Verde project, Acre, Brazil

There is a real risk that, like many ambitious international commitments, the SDGs will remain empty promises without effective monitoring and accountability. Therefore, before governments around the world begin implementing this post-2015 development agenda, a central component will be developing robust monitoring systems to track progress countries make in achieving the new climate and development goals in a consistent and rigorous manner (explained in a briefing note by Pintér, here).

Localising the SDGs will be critical to implementation - finding local strategies that can turn the ambitions into results at the local level. This will involve enhancing broad-based engagement in planning and monitoring action, making these agendas relevant to local stakeholders (described by the UN Development Group, here). For this to happen, SDGs will need to align with national development plans, build on existing national and local mechanisms and processes, and develop monitoring systems and indicators with broad, multi-stakeholder participation. Countries will pursue their own set of national indicators, responding to its own priorities and needs (see this short brief on reporting on the SDGs, and this detailed report to the UN on indicators and a monitoring framework for the SDGs).

Various forms of participatory monitoring, including community-based forest monitoring, can play a key role in generating complementary local data to measure progress towards SDG targets, and monitor the effectiveness of national policies. This report by Care argues that participatory monitoring will be important for the SDGs in three ways: by increasing accountability - providing a form of 'shadow reporting' by communities that gives oversight of data in official government statistics and systems; by giving contextual information, such as on the quality of services; and by providing a vital link from the internationally-led agenda to local processes, improving the incentives to make SDGs work for local communities.