Trillion Trees
6 min readOct 27, 2021
Guyana Amazon

Five ideas for unlocking and improving finance for forests

Fran Price, Global Forest Practice Lead, WWF and
John Lotspeich, Executive Director, Trillion Trees

Finance for forests will be an important topic at COP26. Join us online for our ‘Forest Finance: Finding the Tipping Point’ event on 3rd November at 19:30 (GMT). Register here.

Protecting and restoring the world’s forests will be critical to a greener and more equitable future — and to averting climate disaster. To date, competing priorities for financial resources have resulted in few attempts to drive positive investment into forest landscapes in ways that both keep forests standing and incentivize restoration. It’s time to look beyond current models of forest financing to unlock the resources we urgently need and accelerate forest conservation at scale.

Happily, we’re seeing some positive momentum already. Last month nine philanthropic organisations, including Arcadia and the Bezos Earth Fund, pledged $5 billion toward conserving 30% of the globe for nature by 2030 — the largest private funding commitment to global biodiversity ever. Meanwhile the LEAF coalition of a dozen major multinationals has pledged $1 billion for REDD+ results, newly signaling demand to ambitious programmes at provincial to national scales to halt tropical deforestation. When developed with Indigenous people and local communities, such as the DGM Saweto initiative in Peru, this type of funding can help build a nature-positive world.

Here, we propose a five-point blueprint to help policymakers, conservationists and funders maximise the flow of investment in forests as a nature-based solution. Each of these interventions is working right now, at scale, in the landscapes where Trillion Trees partners — WWF, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and BirdLife International — operate.

1.Build sustainable models from the ground-up with communities, not just within a ‘market’ framework. Durable progress comes not only when investment calls are made at the World Bank in Washington, but when we focus our efforts in places where locals are ready to engage. While important, programmes should not be designed solely to help investors validate their contributions towards sustainability. Rather, we should favor approaches that embed project finance in community stewardship, address indigenous rights, and take into account prevailing forms of landscape governance. In the case of governance, we should strengthen existing systems that enable people to have a voice, and understand how we can facilitate their emergence in places where these systems are flawed or lacking

An example is work that WWF is doing with 48 villages in the Coastal Forests of Tanzania. WWF staff and local partners are working closely with members of these communities, helping finance restoration and regenerative agriculture that directly benefits the people who live there. Conservation is scalable and self-sustaining over the long-term only when accompanying social and economic benefits are clear, compelling and deliver results.

Foresters of the Future children, Ⓒ WWF Tanzania

2. Focus work in landscapes where the conditions are right for success, rather than favoring immediate and easily-measured wins. For example, saplings can be quickly planted and counted, but widespread tree-planting is sometimes done unwisely or is not always the best strategy, yet it consumes much of the available forest finance. Thirty years of successful conservation have taught us that meaningful change only comes when we plant the right trees in the right ecosystems, invest in ongoing stewardship that yields long-term dividends for habitats and communities, and work with trusted networks and institutions who share these goals.

Our partner, Nature Kenya, has joined forces with the country’s Forest Research Institute and its government-backed network of community forest associations to identify and propagate the best native tree species in 32 co-operative plant nurseries, sowing and growing more than four million saplings over the last two years alone. But too often the conservation community has failed to tap into existing institutions and networks, certainly not as well as the agricultural community has done for decades.

Community tree-planting at Mount Kenya Ⓒ Nature Kenya

3. Prioritise places where there is political will to build momentum. In the pioneering Herencia Colombia programme, WWF and WCS are uniting with the National Parks Agency and Ministry of Environment to leverage a dedicated carbon tax and protect 20 million hectares of the world’s most eco-rich rainforest. In Brazil, Trillion Trees partner SAVE Brasil is working to revive 27,000 hectares of degraded Atlantic Forest habitat thanks to regional laws that require landowners to protect or restore at least 20% of their land. And back in Tanzania, the AFR100 initiative has prompted the government to pledge restoration of 5.2 million hectares of forest by 2030. WWF is now partnering with them to roll-out its agroforestry-based restoration strategy nationwide.

4. Actively align our forest conservation efforts with those who are working equally as hard to deliver the world’s biodiversity and development goals. We know from our experience in the field that good forest stewardship can deliver benefits to people, nature and the planet. We cannot afford to lose sight of the many benefits of healthy forest ecosystems, or to look at forests exclusively through a carbon lens. By thinking more broadly, we can build the case for integrated investment in forest landscapes from diverse funding sources, and protect our remaining standing forests and the biodiversity that thrives within them. Together, we can pursue a green sustainable development agenda that helps secure livelihoods and recognizes the rights of the communities that live in and around forests.

For example, we are pushing for a comprehensive new Global Biodiversity Framework that ensures the outcomes of government commitments are measured and effective.

Many of our projects are ready to go: In the Upper Paraná Atlantic Forest ecoregion of Brazil, WWF charts the success of a restoration campaign by monitoring the return of jaguars; between 2006 and 2018 their population in Brazil and Argentina increased by 160%. And, in Tanzania’s East Usambaras, WWF measured progress in terms of rising incomes; between 2004 and 2013 community participation grew by 239%.

Jaguar Ⓒ Jayro Bardales

5. Cautiously embrace a payment-by-results (PBR) model. This can be challenging for implementers and communities on the ground where investment is often needed up-front for training and equipment to work within PBR frameworks, and to document progress. The ‘venture philanthropy’ model of some organisations — like the Children’s Investment Fund — can be instructive. Their insistence on commercial acumen and empirical results brings rigour to projects and security to investors. The G20 governments that will drive delivery of the Paris Agreement will need to be accountable to their own legislators and taxpayers, and at this point, we really cannot afford ineffective use of climate investments. Going forward, governments and private sector investors are increasingly keen to assure efficiency and impact. For example, the UK has incorporated PBR into £3 billion of its climate finance spending.

Forests are among the most cost-effective nature-based solutions to the triple challenge we are facing — climate change, loss of nature, and food insecurity. We need more investment in sustainable forest finance, along with investments in capacity and accountability. Without investment in forests, climate and nature commitments cannot be met effectively. We call upon governments and multinationals to think of forests as engines of development for people and as irreplaceable ecosystems that provide sanctuary and resources for millions of species, including ourselves.

Trillion Trees

Trillion Trees is a joint venture and shared vision of BirdLife International, Wildlife Conservation Society, and WWF.