ForLives research and expertise span three themes: forest-ecosystem resilience; rights, justice and socio-cultural benefits; and the green economy.

These themes represent a nested hierarchy relevant to the advancement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (Fig 1), while also addressing the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) Global Forest Goals, the Paris Agreement, and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (ABTs) under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

They reflect our mission to see forests used equitably to support local livelihoods in a manner which sustains and protects forests in perpetuity.

All of our projects consider three cross-cutting issues: climate change, gender, and governance.

  Figure 1.    A new way of viewing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), where economies and societies are seen as embedded parts of the biosphere  (Image amended with the permission of Stockholm Resilience Centre; )

Figure 1. 

A new way of viewing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), where economies and societies are seen as embedded parts of the biosphere

(Image amended with the permission of Stockholm Resilience Centre;


Forest Ecosystem Resilience

SDGs 13, 14, 15

Forests contain an estimated 75% of all terrestrial animal and plant species and are fundamental for maintaining biological diversity (biodiversity) [1]. They protect the ecological processes that support life on earth, including pollination, soil fertility, nutrient cycling, and the maintenance of water quality and quantity [2]. Forests in coastal zones also protect against sea level rise, storm surges, and soil erosion. Climate change commitments cannot be achieved without forests as forests are both a source and a sink for carbon – deforestation emits carbon while forests are the largest storehouse of terrestrial carbon in the world. Therefore, we focus on forest-based solutions to climate change. As commercial interests and shifting agricultural systems are major drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, we also pay particular attention to the role of agriculture in forest ecosystem resilience, as well as forest landscape restoration (FLR).

Rights, Justice and Socio-Cultural Benefits

SDGs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 16

The contributions of forests to rural and Indigenous communities around the world are paramount. 90% of people living in extreme poverty depend on forests for all or part of their livelihoods [3], including non-timber forest products for food and nutrition security, and as sources of medicinal plants and biomass energy (e.g., firewood, charcoal). As such, forests cannot be adequately protected without engaging and supporting the millions of Indigenous and rural people residing near or within them. Indigenous people and other communities claim customary tenure of up to 65% of the world’s land and are widely considered to be the best stewards of the forest. Yet, in many instances, they lack legal rights for the majority of these lands [4]. Given this, Indigenous authority and rights is a key research domain within this theme, paying particular attention to topics such as Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), Indigenous governance, and inequitable power relations. Women’s roles in access to and control over forest resources are paramount and often different to those of men, therefore we take a gendered approach to our research, both within this theme and across our broader research program. Forests also provide crucial support during conflict and natural disasters. As such, this theme includes projects on forests and forest resources in the contexts of refugees and disaster risk reduction and mitigation.

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The Green Economy

SDGs 1, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

A green economy is one which encourages economic development that prioritizes sustainability. It emphasises renewable forms of energy, cleaner forms of transportation, locally-sourced goods, green buildings, and better water and waste management. Inclusive and sustainable economic growth, equitable access to environmental finance, open markets, education, small-scale enterprises, and skills are all hallmarks of a greener economy. Forests and forest products are key to a green economy as they contribute over US$250 billion to the economies of the developing world [5], they provide materials for green infrastructure and urban forestry thereby increasing the resilience of cities, and they help to reduce inequalities by supporting millions of small- and medium-forest enterprises, such as community forestry. This theme examines these issues, along with the impacts of market mechanisms such as zero deforestation commitments on local livelihoods, ranchers, producers, and manufacturers; the links between sustainable forest management (SFM), international trade, and good forest governance; and the politics of the transformation to a greener economy.


[1] CBD. (2008). Forest biodiversity: More than just trees. Paper presented at the Ninth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Bonn, Germany.

[2] Sunderland, T. (2011). Food security: why is biodiversity important? International Forestry Review, 13(3), 265-274.

[3] OECD. (2009). DAC Guidelines and Reference Series: Natural Resources and Pro-Poor Growth: The Economics and Politics.

[4] Rights and Resources Initiative. (2015). Who Owns the World’s Land? A global baseline of formally recognized indigenous and community land rights. Washington, DC: RRI.

[5] Agrawal, A., Cashore, B., Hardin, R., Shepherd, G., Benson, C., & Miller, D. (2013). Background Paper 1: Economic Contributions of Forests. Paper presented at the United Nations Forum on Forests, Instanbul, Turkey.