Main Issue

Forests cover more than 30 percent of the earth's land surface and are key to maintaining biodiversity, protecting land and water resources, and mitigating climate change. And yet, forests face significant and increasing threats, such as rapid development and competing land uses - particularly for farming and grazing lands, commercial plantations, and infrastructure expansion have all cut wide swaths through the world’s forests. 

Since 1990, the extent of the world’s forests has declined by over nine percent. Even though the rate of decline has slowed, according to a recent estimate from FAO, 10 million hectares of forests are lost every year (an area the size of South Korea). As the effects from climate change and human population continues to increase, competition for land will only intensify. This growth threatens the vital environment services that forests provide, such as the maintenance of biodiversity, climate stability, integrity of land, and delivery of fresh water, while undermining the livelihoods of an estimated 1.6 billion forest-dependent people, with consequences on migration and security. This current trend demonstrates the urgent need to further advance the forest protection, management, and restoration approaches that are at the core of sustainable forest management (SFM).

What We Do

Support from the GEF helps developing countries, which often face an array of economic, ecological, and political challenges, comply with the three Rio Conventions on biodiversity, desertification, and climate change. As the unique financial mechanism of the conventions, the GEF focuses much of its effort on helping governments comply with convention requirements and achieve SFM, providing subsequent environmental benefits in the biodiversity, climate, and land degradation areas.

Forests are often the focus of complex social structures and interaction, where an integrated approach can provide multiple benefits. As a result, many GEF projects, even when forests are not the only focus, contributes to the GEF’s forests portfolio through a landscape-based approach. The GEF offers support for a wide range of SFM tools such as:

  • protected area establishment and management;
  • integrated landscapes planning and management;
  • forest restoration;
  • certification of timber and non-timber forest products;
  • payment for ecosystem services schemes;
  • financial mechanisms related to carbon;
  • development and testing of policy frameworks to slow the drivers of undesirable land-use change; and
  • work with local communities to develop alternative livelihoods to reduce pressure on forests.

The GEF-7 Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) Impact Program focuses on fragile and threatened biomes such as the Amazon, the Congo Basin, and dryland sustainable landscapes where transformative impacts and multiple environmental benefits can be achieved. Investments in these globally important ecosystems can transform the trajectory of harmful land uses and promote collaboration in enhancing and protecting ecosystems that span more than one country.

These biomes are important for biodiversity and carbon storage and provide livelihoods and subsistence to communities that rely on forests and agriculture for their survival thus qualifying as “key ecosystems” where SFM has critical value. These globally important ecosystems offer 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. Because of their size and scale, protecting these biomes requires a comprehensive and large set of investments, as fragmented and isolated projects will not be sufficient to maintain the integrity of these vital ecosystems.

The GEF is addressing global tropical deforestation through the Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration (FOLUR) Impact Program. This ambitious and innovative program brings together 27 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to address deforestation and forest degradation with a system-wide approach that shapes strategies and engages stakeholders at the landscape level and along the food value chains. The FOLUR program supports the needed transformation toward sustainable production systems for food commodities and staple crops, which in return provides a wide range of environmental benefits including improved land management, biodiversity conservation, landscape restoration, and greenhouse gas emission mitigation.

Forest and landscape restoration (FLR) is the rehabilitation of a whole deforested or degraded forest landscape and brings back ecological functionality and local livelihoods. Global and regional restoration initiatives have set ambitious goals to regain healthy and functional forest ecosystems around the world. In GEF-7, forest and landscape restoration is embedded as a critical element within the SFM and FOLUR impact programs.

As a member of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), the GEF participates in major global forest-related meetings and is an active partner in the global forest policy dialogue, notably under the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF).


Since its inception in 1992, the GEF has funded around 500 forest-related projects, investing around $3.4 billion and leveraging an additional expected amount of $17 billion to promote SFM in developing countries around the world.

Midway through GEF-7, the many projects and programs still underway are expected to sustainably improve the management of over 305 million hectares of forest landscapes for multiple benefits and services; restore more than 7.6 million hectares of forest lands; mitigate the emission of 1,294 million tCO2e and enhance the management of 28 million hectares of protected areas in forest landscapes.

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. It also requires cross-sectoral coordination at national levels and the involvement of many different actors and stakeholders in meaningful ways.

The role of the private sector has become more significant in improving 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. However, 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 is partnering with emerging platforms that are aiming to set reimbursable investment funds for small and medium rural producers 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 must 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; and better valorizing the conservation of nature. 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.