How will the World Bank Forests and Landscapes Framework Benefit People and the Planet?

The World Bank presented its updated Forests and Landscapes Framework, or “ForLand,” to a broad cross section of civil society and Indigenous organization members in March this year. We welcome ForLand’s development as a more holistic, realistic, and impact-oriented plan than its predecessor, the 2016 Forest Action Plan (FAP). However it remains to be seen whether the Bank will sufficiently integrate ForLand into other Bank efforts and provide the resources needed to achieve ForLand’s objectives.

The Forests and Landscape Framework (ForLand) is the World Bank’s recently adopted approach to Forests and Terrestrial Ecosystems (Landscapes). It seeks to integrate World Bank Group work on forests with other land uses. It  recognizes the need for more effective WBG efforts to support land management that is sustainable, adapted to a changing climate, and able to provide  ecosystem services such as reliable freshwater flows, productive soil, and clean(er) air.  ForLand represents a significant advance from the 2016 Forest Action Plan (FAP), which BIC reviewed in 2019 to analyze both its overall effectiveness and its country-level impacts

ForLand sets forth four pathways to address the intertwined challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, and sustainable development. These are: (1) production management in natural ecosystems; (2) protected areas; (3) ecosystem restoration; and (4) addressing trade-offs and synergies across land uses. The second and third pathways — protected areas and ecosystem restoration — are relatively uncontroversial. The challenge is mainly in funding and managing them. One way ForLand proposes to address this is through support for “enabling conditions” in countries, such as harmonizing policies and coordination as well as improving governance and spatial planning. These enabling conditions are needed and should be part of broader efforts to upstream these pathways in national development and land-use planning processes, and mainstream them in other land-use sectors such as agriculture and linear infrastructure. 

While the first and fourth pathways are more challenging, they could offer greater outcomes for climate, biodiversity, sustainable development, and local communities. The first pathway, production management, aims to promote enabling policies for integrated landscape management (ILM) and sustainable forest management (SFM) by implementing ILM and SFM practices such as agroforestry, improving governance and sustainability along value chains, and increasing community participation in land use planning and management. What ForLand fails to address is the transforming of agricultural systems to regenerative agriculture — practices such as no-till / minimum till farming, organic farming, composting, crop rotation, and silvo-pastoral livestock raising. Pathway four, managing trade-offs and synergies across land uses, may fill some of this gap, since it calls for aligning policies to foster more sustainable practices across sectors, and applying nature-based solutions, not only in agriculture, but in water, energy, extractive, and transport sectors.  

ForLand also proposes to integrate four issues or themes that need to be addressed for landscape projects to achieve impact. These are: vulnerable groups; climate change, biodiversity, and ecosystem services (BES); One Health; and mobilizing finance for development. Further, ForLand acknowledges the need for an enabling environment that addresses rights, inclusion, and participation, and institutions and incentives. Some of these are addressed passively through safeguards and performance standards; however, it is encouraging that ForLand calls for them to be addressed in a more active and integrated fashion. 

For ForLand to succeed, it is key that the World Bank Group (WBG) adopt ForLand’s proposed criteria for success across all its programs.  These are: 

  • area under sustainable or integrated landscape management expanded, 
  • local economy & people benefiting from landscape practices, 
  • biodiversity & environmental services secured, 
  • climate benefits & GHG emissions reductions (ERs) achieved,
  • restored ecosystems and well-managed protected areas expanded.

The major obstacles ForLand faces are relevance and effectiveness since, in the past, similar efforts have been mostly disconnected from other WBG programs.  ForLand’s success or failure will depend largely on its uptake in other land-use sectors, starting with country planning processes, and whether its proposed criteria for success will be adopted WBG-wide. This is a significant caveat since our research assessing the influence of the FAP on WBG programs at the country level found that the FAP appeared to have no influence in systematically mainstreaming forests into other sectors that are primary drivers of deforestation such as infrastructure, energy, extractives, and agriculture. 

More recently, we have found that private sector operations under the International Finance Corporation (IFC) continue to undermine WBG efforts in these areas. For ForLand to succeed, its success criteria must be fully applied to IFC’s operations. The IFC is still financing industrial livestock operations and infrastructure in sensitive ecosystems such as the Amazon, without tracking supply chains or impacts on Indigenous Peoples. If the WBG is to credibly promote sustainability in sectors impacting land use, it needs at a minimum to upgrade its oversight, if not undertake a thorough upgrade of its policies on supply chains, i.e. requiring full traceability of livestock and other commodities coming from sensitive ecosystems, and pay much greater attention to potential impacts on Indigenous Peoples and circumstances requiring Free Prior and Informed Consent.   

See the World Bank PowerPoint on the Forests and Landscapes Framework here.