Main Issue

Forests cover around one third of the earth's land surface, just below 4 billion hectares. Forests  maintain biodiversity, protect land and water resources, and play a role in climate change mitigation, but they face significant threat. Rapid development and competing land uses, particularly for farming and grazing lands, commercial plantations, and infrastructure expansion, have cut wide swaths through the world’s forests.  

This forest loss threatens vital environment services, such as the maintenance of biodiversity, climate stability, integrity of land, and delivery of fresh water. The degradation of forests and their associated environmental services also undermines the livelihood of an estimated 1.6 billion forest-dependent people, with consequences for migration and security. 

As human populations continue to increase, competition for land only will further intensify. Over the past 25 years, the extent of the world’s forests has declined by about 3%, but encouragingly, the rate of forest loss slowed considerably with advances in the forest protection, management and restoration approaches that are at the core of sustainable forest management (SFM). 

There are few places in the world where intact forest biomes still exist and allow for a more concerted and comprehensive approach to sustainable forest management. The Amazon, the Congo Basin, and some important dryland landscapes around the world represent the last geographies where a different approach to long-term development can be tested. 

What We Do

The Amazon and Congo Basin are habitat to the two largest areas of tropical rainforests remaining in the world, covering 1.1 billion hectares, and these forests have high rates of endemism. Additionally, they represent large carbon stocks (more than 200,000 million tons). Because of their significant intact forest cover over such a large area they exert a regional and global influence on climatic and rainfall patterns. 

While forest decline has slowed in recent years, many governments face an array of economic, ecological, and political challenges in achieving SFM, and deforestation and degradation of many global forests continues at an alarming rate. The GEF is focusing on key globally important ecosystems where its investments can transform the trajectory of land use and promote collaboration in ecosystems that span more than one country and are of global importance. Specifically, the GEF will focus on fragile biomes of global importance for humanity, the Amazon, the Congo Basin, and forests and trees outside forests in drylands where transformative impacts and multiple environmental benefits can be achieved.  

These biomes are globally important for biodiversity and carbon storage, provide livelihoods and subsistence to communities that rely on forests and agriculture for their survival, and as such qualify as “key ecosystems” where SFM can have value. In these globally important ecosystems, there is an opportunity to change the future development trajectory from natural resource depletion and biodiversity erosion, to one based on natural capital management and productive landscapes. The latest science also indicates that these globally important ecosystems require integrated ecosystem-scale management for maintaining their ecological integrity and functioning and delivering global environmental benefits. Because of the scale of these biomes, a comprehensive and large-scale set of investment is needed, as fragmented and isolated projects will not be sufficient to maintain the integrity of these unique and globally important area. 


The GEF has funded at least 380 forest-related projects since its inception in 1992. Our investment of US$2.1 billion has leveraged US$9.5 billion for sustainable forestry. At the close of GEF-5, most projects and programs were still underway. If they meet expectations, they will improve over 30 million ha of forest landscapes for multiple benefits and services; restore 500,000 ha of forest lands; and prevent the release of 128 million tCO2e and enhance management of 28 million ha of protected areas in forest landscapes.  

One of the GEF’s first projects set aside 360,000 ha to preserve the unique biodiversity in Guyana’s tropical rainforest. In Brazil, an innovative public-private partnership reduced deforestation in the Amazon by 80 percent over 10 years. More recently, in 2008, a project strengthened the capacity of countries in the Congo Basin to measure and monitor carbon stocks, helping to qualify them for future funding under the REDD+ program.  

Looking Ahead

Managing forests for environmental, economic, and climate benefits requires working across all sorts of boundaries: across countries and between jurisdictions in country; from local communities and indigenous peoples to national line ministries and international treaty organizations; and between government ministries. 

The GEF’s Sustainable Forest Management Impact Program, seeks to maintain the ecological integrity of entire biomes by concentrating efforts, focus, and investments, as well as ensuring strong regional cross-border coordination. Past forest management investments were often isolated and mainly focused on integrating SFM principles in land management projects at the project scale only. The Impact Program will address the drivers of forest loss and degradation through strategies aimed at creating a better enabling environment for forest governance; supporting rational land use planning across mixed-use landscapes; strengthening the management and financing of protected areas; clarifying land tenure and other relevant policies; supporting the management of commercial and subsistence agriculture lands to reduce pressure on adjoining forests; and utilizing financial mechanisms and incentives for sustainable forest management. 

The private sector also has a significant role to play to improve the sustainability of many sectors operating in forests around the word. Promising progress is being made with large companies that produce or trade global commodities like soy and beef. But small and medium-sized enterprises generally face more costly barriers to improve production practices and achieving scale in the commercialization of their products. The GEF will explore partnering with emerging platforms that are aiming to set reimbursable investment funds for small and medium rural producers businesses operating in the key forest areas such as the Amazon. National, state, and commercial banks are willing to partner in joint pilot initiatives that pursue differentiated financial arrangements for public credit lines directed at small farmers and suppliers.  

Managing forests also should include finding a path out of poverty for the millions of people who depend on them for their welfare and future. This requires finding new production technologies; transforming ecological goods and services for growing markets locally and internationally in a way that protects the natural capital that produces these goods and services. That very sustainable production method then serves as a competitive advantage in those markets while providing ownership opportunities for local and indigenous communities in the business ecosystem so they are not just labor or consumers but drivers of economic change.