Forests and the World Bank: What’s the Score?

We care about forests—a lot. Why?  Here are a few reasons.


  • Are a primary source for food, water, medicines, building materials, and fuel, as well as jobs and livelihoods, of 1.6 billion people globally;[i] 
  • Serve as guarantors of high value surface and drinking water: 75% of freshwater used for household, agricultural, and industrial needs is provided through forested catchments;[ii]
  • Generate billions of dollars in revenues (building materials, pharmaceuticals, paper);[iii]
  • Contain over 80% of terrestrial biodiversity;[iv]
  • Store over 45% of the world’s terrestrial carbon;[v]
  • Enhance both ecological and social resilience to climate change; and
  • Promote health & recreation.[vi]

As it turns out, the World Bank cares about forests too.  It created an action plan in 2016 specifically to improve how forests are impacted by its work. The plan states up front:

"At the WBG, we recognize the importance of forests to sustainable and inclusive development, and support renewed public and private sector efforts to address the global forest challenge."

So we agree on the goal. But how is the Bank doing?  As our analysis shows, it’s a simple question that is difficult to answer.  In fact, we needed to create a scorecard just to keep track.   It covers 39 “planned actions,” i.e. actions which the Bank set out to achieve in its plans, with 45 different indicators.  You’ll find it and some scores in the Annexes to our analysis. 

What’s the (most important) score? For me, it’s this: 1.2 vs. 98.8.  Those are the percentages of WBG finance for forests versus everything else.   So when it comes to forests, work in the forest sector is important, but everything else is mighty important, too.  How can the Bank get it right?  We have a few ideas, so read on.    

Read the full report: Is the World Bank Meeting Its Forest Commitments?


[i] United Nations: “Forests and Water Sustain Life and Livelihoods,” factsheet, March 2016, UNHQ NY. Nearly 3 billion people—mostly poor—depend on wood as their main energy source for household heating and cooking. Some 300 million people live in forests worldwide, including an estimated 60 million indigenous people whose survival depends almost entirely on native woods. 

[ii] Ibid. In addition, forests recycle nutrients, regulate water quality, and prevent erosion of topsoil.

[iii] Forests contribute over $600 billion, close 1% of global gross domestic product, annually.  Russell McLendon, “21 Reasons Why Forests Are Important,” March 20, 2014, Mother Nature Network.  The Forest Action Plan (Foreword, p. vii) also summarizes forests’ economic contributions:

As the world warms and its population grows, forests and trees stand at the intersection of many decisive challenges: sustaining agriculture; reducing the impact of droughts, floods, and storms; regulating water and climate; storing carbon; protecting infrastructure; providing timber, paper, and energy; and housing critical biodiversity. Forests are also where some of the world’s most vulnerable people live. Actions taken to enhance the governance and sustainable management of forests contribute directly to developing economic opportunities for the poorest.

[iv] World Bank, “Biodiversity and Forests at a Glance,” 2002: “Forests now cover only 6 percent of the planet, but they harbor up to 90 percent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. This biodiversity is irreplaceable, and also has important economic uses.”

[v] Ibid. Forest loss in the tropics alone accounts for between 10-30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

[vi] Exposure to forests has been shown to boost creativity, suppress ADHD, speed up recovery, and encourage meditation and mindfulness. It may even help us live longer. McLendon, op. cit