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The 2020 ‘Super Year’ – what does it mean for forests?

By Harriet Williams, Goldsmith Family Philanthropy, 7th October 2019

The planet’s great forests are still yielding their secrets. On average, a new species is named in the Amazon every two days, while the world thrilled to the recent description of a new orangutan species in Indonesia. Trees are living, breathing natural climate solutions that suck vast volumes of carbon out of the air. And forests are home to some of humanity’s most unique indigenous societies, some existing in isolation, others passing their powerful wisdoms on to the wider world.

Despite their incredible services to climate, conservation and the whole of human existence, an area of forest as big as the UK is destroyed every year, overwhelmingly in the tropics and overwhelmingly for agricultural commodities.

As we contemplate the key climate, biodiversity and sustainable development global summits next year, forests are in a curious position. On one hand, their contribution to all three policy areas is recognised more strongly than ever before, but in the real world their daily destruction continues apace and not only in Bolsanaro’s Brazil (in Indonesia, the Tapanuli orangutan was listed as “critically endangered” from the moment of its discovery).

In an exclusive three-part blog series commissioned by the EFN Forest Funders group, we invite leading campaigners and advocates to look ahead to the 2020 ‘Super Year’ and ask: will forests emerge stronger or weaker out of it?

In the first piece, Tom Evans, forest and climate lead for the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Rod Taylor, forests lead for the World Resources Institute, lay out the urgency of protecting large blocks of intact forests as well as fighting deforestation fronts, using the analogy of medical systems that need both ’emergency rooms and preventative health programmes’. They also describe the governance and finance challenges that slow progress towards global forest conservation targets.

In the second piece, Ginger Cassady, program director at Rainforest Action Network, tells us how corporate campaigners are recalibrating their work after the failure of hundreds of ‘zero deforestation’ commitments by major consumer goods brands.

In the final piece, James Whitehead, director of the Forest Peoples Programme, reminds us of the need to set all policy efforts into the lived context of forest communities, who continue to experience serious injustices regarding their access to power and ability to uphold their rights. James foresees success next year as a shift towards supporting communities in achieving self-determination in their territories, a change that may require us all to re-examine our theories of change.

Across the series, our authors reflect on how philanthropists can accelerate promising strategies and generally maximise the opportunities in play, so that 2020 is remembered as a year when the world finally took the action our forests so urgently need.

Harriet Williams is deputy director of Goldsmith Family Philanthropy, where she has managed programmes on tropical forests for several years, with a focus on reforming the policy and market frameworks that drive demand for forest-risk commodities. She is an active member of the EFN Forest Funders group: if you fund forests work and would like to find out more about the group, or join its Google Group, please contact

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