How can open government accelerate implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda?

That’s the big question on the table at this year’s Global Summit of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), an initiative dedicated to increasing government transparency and citizen empowerment. One overlooked answer to that question is “forests.”

Forests Are a Common Thread

Today, an estimated one in five people directly depend on forests for their livelihoods. So it’s no wonder that forests, recognized for their benefits in providing food, water, shelter and income, are a central part of the SDGs. In fact, one of the goals (SDG 15) is dedicated to sustainable land and forest use, and several others indirectly relate to forests in the context of poverty alleviation (SDG 1), hunger (SDG 2), health (SDG 3), climate (SDG 13) and water (SDG 14).

By contrast, forests are grossly underrepresented in OGP commitments, presenting an opportunity for progress toward the theme of this year’s Summit. Of the more than 2,000 commitments made among the OGP’s 66 national signatories, only 172 address the environment and natural resources, and just four of those commitments explicitly mention forests. This is disproportionately low given that 44 of these countries have a significant portion (at least 25 percent) of their total land area as forest cover. The Summit is an ideal platform to change this, as member states revisit their national action plans every two years, with input from civil society.

Good Governance Leads to Good Forest Management

Leveraging the OGP to support sustainable development makes sense. The OGP tenets of transparency, accountability and data openness benefit forests, as open government often translates to good forest governance.

Take open data: Making forestry information like concession boundaries available can help decision-makers make better, more informed decisions around land use, such as mining, logging and agriculture. This can reduce conflict arising from overlapping land claims, and decrease illegal logging by improving the capacity and timeliness of enforcement. It can also help quantify the ecosystem services provided by forests, and ensure that civil society has the information it needs to hold governments accountable to decisions. Open data tools like Global Forest Watch, an interactive online monitoring and alert system, can allow everyone from citizens to government officials to keep an eye on forest loss or fires and notify stakeholders of areas of concern.

Making Progress through OGP

While slow to emerge, there have been some promising advances for forest-related commitments through the OGP, including:

  • Indonesia: As part of its first national action plan, Indonesia developed the One Map Portal for improved forest management. The government-led initiative aims to digitize data and information related to primary and secondary forests, and harmonize the spatial boundaries of land use, forest cover and administrative boundaries used by different government entities. That way, government officials can ensure they are preventing overlapping land claims, which helps to reduce risk for investors, increase land tenure security for communities and decrease potential land use conflict.

  • Liberia: In Liberia’s second national action plan, released just last month, the government has committed to making information on commercial land use rights publicly available, including land area, georeferenced location data, and related Environmental and Social Impact Assessments. Their commitments also include public disclosure of proposed reforms potentially affecting the land and natural resources sector so that citizens have the opportunity to monitor changes, respond and react before legislation is passed.

  • Mexico: Mexico is committed to providing its citizens with opportunities to participate before, during and after the decision-making process around environmental impact assessments, and has committed to creating a tool through which to disseminate this information in an accessible, appropriate and timely manner. This ensures that stakeholder participation is a central component throughout the lifecycle of projects that could drive deforestation, and that multiple perspectives are represented. The commitment also standardizes the way in which information is released, making it easier to understand and access.

Kick-starting More Progress

All three countries will be represented by civil society and government officials at the Summit in a roundtable titled, “Improving Forest Transparency through the Open Government Partnership.” The participants will identify the next generation of commitments needed to support successful implementation of SDG 15 and other forest-related goals.

Additionally, the Openness in Natural Resources Working Group (ONR-WG), one of five such thematic groups, will formally launch at this year’s summit. The ONR-WG is co-chaired by WRI, the Natural Resource Governance Institute and the Government of Indonesia, and seeks to promote the public disclosure of contracts, beneficial ownership and environmental policy, management and compliance data. The Working Group’s activities include generating concrete, impactful and ambitious OGP natural resource commitments through technical assistance and peer-learning exchanges.

At the Summit and beyond, governments should work with civil society groups to adopt commitments that support both the goals of the OGP and the success of the SDGs, contributing to a new global norm on openness in natural resource and forest management. By creating better, more open governments, we can create a better world for forests and the people who rely on them.